A few months ago, sometime in late June, my friend Irene called me one evening. She had this wacky idea to cook a suckling pig. Her original thought was to cook it for the 4th of July party that she and her husband throw each year. Just two problems, one, we have too many vegetarian friends that attend their 4th of July Party (we thought they might take offense to dinner having a face). Secondly, she thought their house might be a little small to accommodate that kind of meal.
We both whipped out our calendars to find a date that would work for both of us. With our travel and some of our intended guests travel, the first date that we could come up with was Sept. 26. So we set that as our date and set to planning.
The first order of business was finding our suckling pig. This turned out to be more difficult than I imagined. After asking the butchers at the grocery stores I frequent, and making calls to a couple of butcher shops that I have used in the past, I ended up finding a source on the Internet that would ship it frozen overnight. Meet Stanley.
The next order of business was menu planning. We wanted to keep our side dishes fairly simple so that the suckling pig would be the star of the show. We had quite a bit of discussion about what to fill our piggy with. We thought bread stuffing would be too heavy (and unnecessary given the rest of the menu), then we considered simply filling the cavity with aromatics (apples, onions and herbs). Then I stumbled on a recipe for stuffing that used a heavy dose of caramelized onion along with bread. We decided to use this idea (just without the bread).
Here's the menu we came up with:
Cherry Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Skewers
Salami Toscano, Soppressetta, Olives and Grilled Vegetables
Italian Plums, Melon and Dried Apricots
Suckling Pig with Caramelized Onion, Figs and Sage
Smoke Roasted Potatoes (from Steven Raichlen's "How to Grill")
Greens and Herbs with Peaches, Fresh Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Honey-Lime Vinaigrette
Well, we didn't really come up with dessert and one of our friends volunteered to bring peach cobbler, so we said yes, please.
We started cooking on Friday (well actually, Irene started on Thursday by making a brine). We put piggy in the brine in a cooler outside and then started on the filling.
Here's the ingredients for the filling:
6 or so tablespoons bacon fat (butter would have been good here too, but since we were rendering bacon to top the potatoes, we decided to use the fat for the filling)
9 red onions, sliced
5 clove garlic, minced
2 cups white wine (my wine guy recommended a Riesling that worked very well)
1/4 cup fresh sage, minced
1 pint fresh figs, chopped
We started by cooking the bacon over medium heat. Once it was nice and crispy we took it out of the pan (leaving the fat) and then added all of the onion and a heavy sprinkle of kosher salt. Once the onions were soft, we added the garlic, letting it cook for about 30 seconds, then added the wine. We left this to simmer for a couple of hours (which smelled divine). Once the wine had all cooked away, we stirred in the sage and figs and let it cook for just a few minutes more.
Now this was good. I could have eaten an entire bowl of this filling all by itself. We left it to sit until it was cool and then stuck it in the fridge overnight. Then Irene went home and we both went to bed.
Irene came back the next day in the afternoon. We took Stanley out of the brine, patted him dry, then stuffed him, trussed him and rubbed him with olive oil. Then we covered his ears with foil (so they wouldn't burn) and propped open his mouth with foil (so we could put a fig in there later).
We followed the cooking instructions from the Joy of Cooking cookbook. They said to start cooking with 30 minutes at 450 degrees, then to reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 2 to 2 1/2 hours more, basting every 20 minutes. We basted with a combination of butter, some more of the Riesling that we used in the filling and maple syrup.
So, you saw that part where it should have taken 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees, well Stanley was done a full hour before he should have been. Of course nothing else was ready, so we decided the best course of action was to just turn off the oven and let him rest in there.
Finally, it was time. We took Stanley out of the oven, gingerly lifted him to the platter, them sliced him up. I love this picture above on the right with our boy Jones staring down Stanley.
We drank a toast to Stanley then dug in. So good. As Irene said "Stanley was tender and O so delicious." As the chefs, Irene and I decided that we deserved the tasty bits. As we had consumed plenty of Manhattans, we were adventurous enough to each try an eyeball (which I liked) and then the husband dared me to try brains. Well, now I can say I've tried brains and I never have to do it again. We saved the best for last, one cheek for me and one for Irene. Yum, yum, YUM!
I can say, with Irene's prompting I may have gone my entire life without making this meal. So for that I must thank her. This was truly a night and a meal to remember.
Special thanks to Ken Broman, the husband, and whoever picked up my camera and used it on Saturday. This post would have been lacking without you.