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When Emeril mentions pork or garlic, his groupies go wild. I’m sure very few have had the greatest of all pork dishes, the suckling pig. I first had it on a Jr. High School trip to Spain about 20 years ago. I still remember the tender, moist meat perfumed with garlic and spices and, of course, the crispy, salty skin. Since that time, I’ve made it one of my missions in life to taste roasted suckling pigs from as many different cultures as possible. In the Caribbean, Asia, Mexico, South and Central America, East and Western Europe, each culture has a different way to prepare it. The one common string is that it is always a celebration to serve one of these little guys.

At Guastavino’s, we served both suckling pigs and young apple-fed pigs. The difference is that the weaned apple-fed pigs are a little older and have been fed apples for a couple of weeks. They are a little meatier, and have a rich, sweet flavor. Four Story Farm in Pennsylvania or the farm co-op in Vermont would call to tell us when the piglets would be ready. We usually got a couple of weeks’ notice so we could plan the menu and email our loyal guests.

The little beauties usually arrived on a Thursday so they could be sold over the weekend. Christopher, my Head Chef in the Upstairs restaurant, is half Filipino and has great memories of roasted pigs; he needs at least a monthly fix. The entire staff would get giddy knowing that they would get a little taste. I think it was that excitement and enthusiasm that spread to the clients and made the dish so popular.

Preparation starts by brining the pigs overnight in a mixture of salt, sugar, herbs, spices, garlic and water. This makes the meat succulent and helps the skin crisp. The day of the cooking, I loosen the skin from the meat and massage a spiced butter between the flesh and the skin. Then the pig is roasted slowly until it is tender and crisp with a lacquered finish. I always serve an acid or sour component with roast pork. It balances the richness of the meat. The flavors change with the seasons. In the spring it might be pickled ramps or fiddleheads, in the summer a light heirloom tomato salad with shallots, or in the fall and winter local sour apples and cider vinegar.
I always use lots of herbs, spices, and garlic to season pigs. The variety usually depends on what type of accompaniment I’ll be using. I love to use my own spice blends such as Mellow Yellow, Russian Red, Sweet Seasoning, and Greek Garlic each of which lend a totally different accent to the meat. I simply rub the interior cavity with a bit of butter and massage the spices in. The butter helps to stick the seasonings to the carcass.

We always presented the pigs on a large platter and wheeled them around the dining room on a cart. It was a real selling point for the captains to arrive at the table with such a dramatic presentation. There are those who found it a bit intimidating, but at least it gave them something to talk about the next day at the office.

 

 






 

 


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