Almost every time we pass Wayne in the St Lawrence market and spy his suckling pigs hanging, my husband says, "We should buy one and cook it ". I nod and keep walking, so up until last weekend, despite having cooked almost every cut of pork I've never roasted a whole pig. My oven is big enough, a wonderful beast, a commercial Garland range. There is nothing high-tech about it, just knobs to turn the gas on or off. What had stopped me was a pan.
Wayne was offering a deal too good to refuse, so this time I said yes and we went home with a piglet in a garbage bag. The plastic quality wasn't good and within a couple of minutes, the snout and a foot were sticking out of the bag.
We called two couples that are always ready at a moments notice for an experimental dinner and Sunday night was organized - there would be 6 of us. Next I had to find a pan big enough to hold my piglet. I have a large heavy All Clad pan that is perfect for roasts and large birds but not for a piglet measuring 60 cm/24 inches nose to tail. I thought about a large foil pan only the "large" ones were nowhere big enough, so I decided to use the large baking tray I have, hoping that there wouldn't be too much juice or fat.
Now I had a good 24 hours to let this piggy sit in the refrigerator, to dry out the skin. First, I removed the kidneys, all that were left inside the cavity, then I made an attempt at weighing it. I have a good set of scales but not really big enough to balance a pig. My calculation was that she weighed in around 6.35kg/14lb. It was easy to tell the sex, she had teats. Then I checked all over for stray body hairs. Arm yourselves with a good pair of tweezers for this job and check carefully around the ears and between the toes.
Next I rubbed her inside and out with sea salt, placed her on a rack on baking sheet in the refrigerator. You'll need a big fridge too! Dry skin has a much better chance of turning into crackling and the combination of salt and dry air helps. The kidneys went in along side in a bowl.
The following morning I made stuffing; a couple of large red onions, sliced and softened in duck fat, with 8 large sage leaves added. Once the onions are well coated with the fat, cover the pan and cook until they are very soft. Uncover and add 375ml/1 1/2 cups of red wine.
Bring to a boil, then continue to cook until there is only a couple of spoonfuls of wine left, just enough to keep the onions moist. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and then leave to cool.
Chop the kidneys, a couple of garlic cloves and finely shred another 12 sage leaves. Stir into the onions with about 125g/ 4oz of cubed day old bread, or just enough to make a good stuffing, not too moist not to dry.
Now you must take Miss Piggy out of the refrigerator an hour before you want to cook her. Your oven should be at 160C/325F.
Turn her over and place the stuffing in the belly. If you want you can sew her up, but using skewers is easier now and when you serve.
I looped string around the skewers to pull the skin together.
Bend the front legs back into a crouching position and tie them with string and let the two back legs sit along side the body and secure them in place with string.
Here she is, on two baking sheets, I wanted to make sure they didn't buckle in the oven - one would have been fine. You can see the tied legs and the tail and ears with their foil protectors.
There is also a piece of scrunched foil under the right thigh so she sits straight. It is important how the pig is sitting, so she comes out of the oven looking good.
I scored the skin, following the advice in my beloved Time/Life Good Cook, Pork book but I won't bother next time. Just rub the skin with a little olive oil and sprinkle with fine sea salt, then into the oven.
You can baste if you want but I really don't think it makes any difference. According to all I read my pig would take 4 hours to cook, she was ready in 3. The best news is that this dish holds well in a turned off oven and is easier to deal with warm not hot. You want the internal temperature to be 71C/160F. And let her sit at least 30 minutes before carving.
Remove the foil, skewers and string and remove the legs and cut them up, then the loin and belly. We had a great feast and only ate half the piglet. With some bowls of salad this is one of the easiest meals you'll ever cook for a crowd - my pig would have fed 12.