Saturday, 19 September 2009

This little piggy left the market

Almost every time we pass Wayne in the St Lawrence market and spy his suckling pigs hanging, my husband says, "We should buy one and cook it ".  I nod and keep walking,  so up until last weekend, despite having cooked almost every cut of pork I've never roasted a whole pig. My oven is big enough, a wonderful beast, a commercial Garland range. There is nothing high-tech about it, just knobs to turn the gas on or off. What had stopped me was a pan.
Wayne was offering a deal too good to refuse, so this time I said yes and we went home with a piglet in a garbage bag. The plastic quality wasn't good and within a couple of minutes, the snout and a foot were sticking out of the bag.

We called two couples that are always ready at a moments notice for an experimental dinner and Sunday night was organized - there would be 6 of us. Next I had to find a pan big enough to hold my piglet. I have a large heavy All Clad pan that is perfect for roasts and large birds but not for a piglet measuring 60 cm/24 inches nose to tail. I thought about a large foil pan only the "large" ones were nowhere big enough, so I decided to use the large baking tray I have, hoping that there wouldn't be too much juice or fat.

Now I had a good 24 hours to let this piggy sit in the refrigerator, to dry out the skin. First, I removed the kidneys, all that were left inside the cavity, then I made an attempt at weighing it. I have a good set of scales but not really big enough to balance a pig. My calculation was that it weighed in around 6.35kg/14lb. Then I checked all over for stray body hairs. Arm yourselves with a good pair of tweezers for this job and check carefully around the ears and between the toes.

Next I rubbed it inside and out with sea salt, placed it on a rack on baking sheet in the refrigerator.  You'll need a big fridge too! Dry skin has a much better chance of turning into crackling and the combination of salt and dry air helps. The kidneys went in along side in a bowl.

The following morning I made stuffing; a couple of large red onions, sliced and softened in duck fat, with 8 large sage leaves added. Once the onions are well coated with the fat, cover the pan and cook until they are very soft. Uncover and add 375ml/1 1/2 cups of red wine.

Bring to a boil, then continue to cook until there is only a couple of spoonfuls of wine left, just enough to keep the onions moist. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and then leave to cool.

Chop the kidneys, a couple of garlic cloves and finely shred another 12 sage leaves. Stir into the onions with about 125g/ 4oz of cubed day old bread, or just enough to make a good stuffing, not too moist not to dry.

Now you must take this piggy out of the refrigerator an hour before you want to cook it. Your oven should be at 160C/325F.
Turn it over and place the stuffing in the belly. If you want you can sew it up, but using skewers is easier now and when you serve.
I looped string around the skewers to pull the skin together.
Bend the front legs back into a crouching position and tie them with string and let the two back legs sit along side the body and secure them in place with string.

Here it is, on two baking sheets, I wanted to make sure they didn't buckle in the oven - one would have been fine. You can see the tied legs and the tail and ears with their foil protectors.
There is also a piece of scrunched foil under the right thigh so she sits straight. It is important how the pig is sitting, so she comes out of the oven looking good.
I scored the skin, following the advice in my beloved Time/Life Good Cook, Pork book but I won't bother next time. Just rub the skin with a little olive oil and sprinkle with fine sea salt, then into the oven.

You can baste if you want but I really don't think it makes any difference. According to all I read my pig would take 4 hours to cook, she was ready in 3. The best news is that this dish holds well in a turned off oven and is easier to deal with warm not hot. You want the internal temperature to be 71C/160F. And let it sit at least 30 minutes before carving.
Remove the foil, skewers and string and remove the legs and cut them up, then the loin and belly. We had a great feast and only ate half the piglet. With some bowls of salad this is one of the easiest meals you'll ever cook for a crowd - my pig would have fed 12.


Peter Lyons-Lewis said...


Lindsey said...

Wow, wow, and wow. I am truly and utterly impressed - and a confirmed fan. Will definitely try - someday - and hopefully, SOON! Looks DELICIOUS!!!!! :)

Sally said...

There is something that wants me to turn vegetarian when I see the whole beast! But I do love pork! Not sure that I would cook the whole beast, but the end result looks great!

Lesley said...

Jennifer, you never cease to AMAZE me! Tell me, was the brain still in there? I'm assuming not. Also, did you eat the head?
Great post! Makes me want to give it a try :)

Jennifer said...

Yes, the brain and tongue were still in. I didn't eat them. I could have cut out the tongue but it was very small. To get at the brain I would have had to use Haralds hacksaw and he gets upset when I get skin and animal pieces on his tools. You should try it. It would have fed 12 and was so simple to do. If you come and visit in November, when I'm back from Paris I'll cook it for you, but you can make dessert.
PS: One book said to take the eye balls out, I didn't. They cook and practically pop out, so can be removed easily before serving. The crisp crunchy ears were the best part.

Anonymous said...

I had been thinking about buying a suckling pig at the market. Can you tell me how much it cost?

Jennifer said...

Well Wayne had a special price the Saturday I bought it, just $20 a pig, an absolute steal. Even at twice the price it would good value as it feeds 12.

elizabeth said...

Does your husband not have 'teat' (nipples)? lol! Both male & female pigs have teats! Enjoying your blog nonetheless and LOVE your Fat book!

Jennifer said...

You are SO right Elizabeth. Thanks for pointing it out my lack of animal anatomy. I've corrected my post so maybe only you will know. I imagine that more male pigs end up as suckling pigs and the females are kept for breeding.

elizabeth said...

As a free range pork producer, selling my pork at Farmers' Markets...I *have* heard it a few times previously! lol

Yes, that's how we would do it, use the males first while they are younger!

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