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August 15, 2007 | Frank Bonanno
The tastiest farm animals eat and move in a natural way–cows that graze on grasses inthe open air; chickens that eat insects, greens, and grains; pigs that forage forpests and decaying matter. Usually the tastiest animals are young, too; beforethey’ve had a chance to develop tough muscles and while their bodies are stillfatty from milk feeding. One of my favorites to prepare is the suckling pig— because its entire body can be used; because it’s beautiful to behold and it smellswonderful; and because it’s always a great social event to cook a pig. I’mplanning such an event, in fact, to raise money for The Children’s Hospital here inDenver, and because it’s on my mind, I thought I’d write about it here.For a good, solid celebration, I like to invite a baker’s dozen—including me, that’s alucky fourteen—and order a 3 month old pig from a local purveyor (the homecook in Denver, should check Marzyck’s Meats). It’s funny, because when you think “roasted pig,” you’re probably imagining this: The reality (for me anyway) is more like this:A suckling pig comes to your door entirely eviscerated, so no dealing with any organs. Use a hack saw to remove the head and the feet. The feet become trotters—fromthe head, the cheeks will make a nice guanciale; pickle the tongue for deli-meat,and turn the rest of the face into copa de teste. The ears make a nice reward forany dog. Take the remainder of the animal and rinse it thoroughly in cold water. Stick it in agarbage pail (invest in a new one) and cover it in a nice 3-gallon brine. Let it restin a cool place for 12 hours. Put the brined pig on a roasting rack or in the oven (or in a coal pit or a barbecue . . .) andslow roast at 250˚ for 12 to 15 hours. The pig is cooked when its blood runs clearand the leg pulls easily away from the body.So many foods go well with pork—corn, potatoes, braised cabbage, pears, plums,peaches . . . to make a really social event, assign each guest a different vegetableor fruit to bring to the gathering and prepare in your home while the pig isroasting. I have it in my mind that if I ever open another restaurant, I’d have a rotisserie right therein the dining room and roast whole suckling pigs every Saturday night to serve fora great rustic Sunday dinner. I’d offer up burrata and ricotta and other cheesesthat we make right there, maybe Marcona almonds. Wouldn’t it be great to walk in a restaurant filled with such smells and sights? In the meantime, go for it at home. Here are some recipe ideas:
Remove the cheeks from the pig’s head. Cover with 3 teaspoons cracked black pepper; 2 dried bay leaves; 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed; 1 box kosher salt. Combine pepper, fennel, crumbled bay and rub into cheeks. Lay half the kosher salt over cheese cloth and set the cheeks on top; cover with remaining salt. Wrap loosely and let cure in cool spot for 36 hours. Rinse in cold water, let dry in refrigerator 48 hours.
Pigs Ears Boil the heck out of the ears and hang somewhere to dry.
Trotters Cut the feet off, braise in butter and pork fat on low temperature. Pull for tender meat.
Brine 6 Pounds salt; 2 pounds sugar; 1 tablespoon nitrate; 4 gallons water; 5 bay leaves; cup black peppercorns; 2 white onions slices; 4 ounces thyme; 2 ounces rosemary; cup crushed red pepper flakes. Combine ingredients in large pot, bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, then let cool.