With all the excitement of today’s Moth of Pork finale, breakfast was the last thing on my mind. I got off to a late start and picked up my 20lb suckling pig at about 10:30 am; I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to cook it, but Mike at Totera assured me that all I’d need was 3 hours at 350 degrees and then maybe a little time under the broiler to crisp up the skin.
I was handed a cardboard box and placed it on the front seat of my car since the trunk was already full. When I opened the box on my counter I experienced the briefest of shocks, the pig that was tucked inside a plastic bag was positioned in such a way that it looked like it was both sleeping and smiling. I wasn’t trying to be morbid or sensational when I began to take pictures, but I wanted to document the finale. The truth is this: if pictures of dead animals make you uncomfortable, you should probably give up meat. More and more often I seem to run into people who will happily cut into a piece of meat so long as they don’t have to acknowledge where it comes from. I impatiently request that the ignorant masses who believe meat comes from magical Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic give their heads a shake and acknowledge the real source of their meal…dead animals.
|This is where the meat you eat comes from...deal with it.|
As I pulled the young pig from the bag and placed it in my sink to give it a rinse I knew I had a problem. It was simply too big to fit on my barbecue. I scrubbed the skin and placed it on my counter where I turned it over and salted the inside with Italian sea salt infused with sage, rosemary and thyme. It’s my own version of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce since “I put that s*** on everything”. I decided to cook it in two parts, one on the barbecue the other in the oven. I drew a sharp blade through the skin at a point just past the last rib and cut right through to the spine on both sides. Then I sharply cracked the spine and cut through the ligaments to split the pig in half. It sounded like something out of a movie. As if to protest my rough handling from the afterlife, I cut my finger on the pig’s teeth as I grabbed its mouth.
|Prepared with a light seasoning of salt|
Placing either half in separate pans, the hind end went into the oven, while the front went into the barbeque with the ears covered in foil. The preparation was just as simple as what I described…salt the inside and place in the grill. Since pork skin doesn’t lend itself to seasoning (it just falls off) there’s not much that you can do to it. Furthermore, there’s not much that you need to do to it. I rushed off to the grocery store and bakery to pick up some last minute supplies while the pig roasted and filled my neighbourhood with its mouth-watering aroma. I opened the door on my return and the scent of roasted pork had already filled the house. I left the front door open to share it with my neighbours; I was like the pied piper of pork!
|Back: Oven. Front: Barbecue.|
What’s surprising about roasting the whole pig is how easy it is. Apart from maintaining a constant temperature there was absolutely nothing to be done except covering the ears so they didn’t burn. There’s no basting required since the skin seals everything in; you can actually see the juices bubbling up under the surface and hear the pops and crackles as the skin cooks and crisps up.
Guests slowly began to trickle in and eventually I had packed 18 hungry people into my humble home. I lost interest in eating and concentrated on hosting. Each half of the pig spent some time under the broiler to turn the skin into crackling… and crackle it did. I first carved the hind quarters and used the “some for me, some for you” serving technique since it smelled so good. The strange part is that after my cannibalism discussion with space in Taiwan a couple of years ago the hind quarters roasting in the oven looked like what I imaged “honey glazed children” would look like, if the child had a tail.
|Prompts memories of "Honey Glazed Children"|
I dipped some bread into the pan dripping and made a mini sandwich of dripping bread, pork and crackling. It was no bigger than two bites but so intense in its porkosity that it resulted in a taste bud shattering porkgasm. Bowl after bowl was doled out to my hungry guests and I couldn’t help but smile when the compliments started rolling in. But as I’ve already admitted, I hadn’t done much, if anything, other than picking the pig up, salting it and roasting it for a few hours. I know people brag about cats being amazing animals because they can take care of themselves, but show me a cat that can cook itself!The skin was a crowd favourite. Thin and crispy, and with the smallest sprinklings of salt…absolutely delicious. My brother Paul looked at a piece lovingly and just before popping it into his mouth remarked “if they could find a way to package this stuff, potato chips would be a thing of the past”.
|Crispy skin: better than potato chips|
|Getting down to the business of carving|
We moved onto the head and I stripped the skin in one piece and in one motion. It was kind of like the first step to a piggy face transplant. Skin aside, I popped the eyeballs out with a spoon and invited my guests into a rite of passage for people who expect to escape the horrors of “food loserdom”. I cut each in three and game the pieces a dose of seasoned salt. The pork eyeball virgins were invited to join me and I had a few takers. My father refused yet another of my invitations saying “I know I’m a food loser, and I’m fine with it.” Next on the food oddity journey was the brain. With a couple of quick and sharp blows with the heel of my knife, I split the skull and extracted the fatty tissue. I drizzled it with olive oil and spread it on some crostini to create another escape from the label of “food loser”.
|Eyeball. Food losers need not apply.|
With all appetites satisfied, I finally made my own sandwich and didn’t hold back. The bun was completely soaked in pan drippings, and then piled high with pork with a couple of layers of crackling and a slice of havarti cheese. A final drizzle of pan drippings and some bomba (hot pepper sauce) elevated it to the status of “cult sandwich” and prompted my second porkgasm of the day.
|The bun was merely a formality|
Embracing my family’s peasant roots, I refused to let any of the pig go to waste and set to work stripping the bones of all the remaining meat. My efforts resulted in 5 ziploc bags full of pork that I sent home with my guests. My sister in law said that the bags of pork were better than any wedding bonboniere that she had ever received.
|A different kind of strip show...no Romanians!|
|Pork...better than bonboniere!|
My Month of Pork had elevated the humble pig into an animal to be honoured and revered. To close out the final feast, we raised shot glasses of grappa. It’s another example of something humble being elevated to elegance since grappa, although now seen as a classy spirit, was originally distilled as a way to extract the last but of alcohol from the remains of wine production. Straight home made stuff for the stronger of throat and stomach, my blueberry infused version for the weaker/fruitier set.
And so ended the Month of Pork, with a meal that completely met the criteria for being described as “holding court”. I was surrounded by family and friends sharing a meal prepared with my hands, and more importantly prepared with my heart. Thanks to my family, making meals with equal parts hands and heart is the way I like to do it, and the only way I know how to do it.
Salute a tutti!
|Me with my "tea towel on the shoulder" look|