"LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
attributed to Mame Dennis

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Farm to Table: Suckling Pig

Wednesday morning we went to Autumn's Harvest Farm to pick up the suckling pig for our Thanksgiving feast. I had ordered it a month or so prior, and Tim from Autumn's Harvest was very helpful guiding me in what size pig I needed for our group, etc. It was so nice to finally meet him in person. He explained that the pig had grown a winter coat which was more difficult to take off, but for the most part the skin was hairless and the stray hairs didn't cause any problem in the eating.
We brought Pat's jumbo beer cooler (holds 72 cans) with a bag of ice to transport it, but we didn't really need it. The animal, weighing in at an estimated 13 lbs., was slightly frozen from hanging in the cooler overnight, and wrapped in several large plastic bags. Upon getting it home, I let it sit out to thaw before rubbing the whole thing down with generous amounts of olive oil, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. I was relieved to see that it was going to fit (just fit) into the aluminum roasting pan I bought for the purpose, although we had to tie the legs together with hemp cord to get them to stay in the pan.
Into the downstairs fridge he went for the night. Before going to bed, I made the stuffing so it would be ready and cooled for the next day. I was following Fergus Henderson's guidelines for roasting the suckling pig, as well as the advice of this excellent blog, so I made the stuffing Henderson suggested. I sliced two huge red onions that I got from the Amish and softened them in some olive oil (This was supposed to be duck fat, but...don't make me go in to it.) Next I added a healthy amount of red wine and allowed this all to cook down. Then I chopped and added the pig's kidneys to the mixture, as well as chunks of day old bread. This was an ideal use for the leftover crostini I had in the freezer. At the last minute, I added some chopped fresh sage and garlic. This stuffing was tasty, but came out a bit soggy when cooked inside the animal. It definitely benefited from all those delicious, piggy cooking juices though. Maybe stuffing is just one of those things that is always better the next day.

There turned out to be just the right amount of stuffing. My costuming experience came in handy here (and no, I didn't use a glue gun.) On Thanksgiving morn, I filled the cavity and sewed it up with some hemp cord and a needle meant for repairing sails. The needle was straight, but the point was shaped like a talon and sharp, which made it perfect for getting through the flesh.

The recipe recommended covering the trotters and the ears with foil to prevent burning. I was planning on sticking an apple in his mouth, but it wouldn't budge. Then the pig went into the oven set to to 320°F.
He still had trouble sitting up and preferred lying on his side, so after two hours (pictured at right) I had to flip him. At this point, I noticed his snout was getting brown, so I covered it with some foil as well. I also turned the oven down to 300°F, which is where I suspect it should have been all along. The house sure smelled good!

The pig ended up cooking for just under five hours. It was hard to find a place that was not near a bone to take the internal temperature. When I did, it was higher than the desired 160°F, but the meat was still very moist, tender and flavorful.
Carving it proved to be a unique challenge, especially since the usual cuts were so small and close together. Also, Pat said that the bones were so soft that his electric carving knife went right through them, but the skin was a bit tough and crunchy (yum!) We end up with plenty of nice bits to go around.
Yes, I would do it again!

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