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.