In the conceptual phase of Christmas Eve dinner, this was supposed to be a traditional suckling porchetta (not just the loin wrapped in the belly, but the whole beast rolled) and it was supposed to be eaten over dinner. Porchetta is a great dish, and currently ranks highly on the hot list, for better or worse, but like many Christmas ideas, concepts are one thing, but you add in other people’s plans and execution becomes another.
Christmas Eve Dinner became lunch. Anatomy of a suckling pig meant that rolling the beast without supplementing the roll would leave for a meager meal, even for lunch. With those two hurdles in the way, plans detoured to a point where I would not even call this variation, “porchetta”. I kept much of the flavors similar to my original plan. Heavy on rosemary, fennel, garlic, coriander, and black pepper. I also stuck with the original thought of deboning the little piggy.
The process was more intimidating than it was difficult. Removing the ribs was done mostly by hand as was the removal of the front shoulder/leg assembly. The spine required some care to ensure that I did not cut holes in the skin. All things said and done, the bones (shown below in three piles, the ribs, legs, and spine) came out relatively cleanly and my suspicion that there isn’t much to the midsection of a suckling pig was confirmed.
After taking all of the bones, but the skull, hams, and trotters from the suckling pig, I salted the carcass and got to work on the stuffing. I has considering stuffing with sausage or carrots and chestnuts, but opted for a simple cornbread stuffing. I started off with the king of all cornbread recipes from Husk Restaurant. I wanted the crispy edges to be a part of this lunch and it only made sense, since one of our guests was flying in from Charleston.
After making the Husk cornbread with Geechie Boy grits, I added sweated garlic, apples, onions, and fennel stalks along with coriander, mustard and fennel seeds, chili flakes, rosemary, fennel fronds, eggs, and buttermilk. Once the stuffing was bound, I added the mixture to the cavity of the suckling pig, packing it tightly.
As I sewed the cavity closed, I pressed the cornbread stuffing tighter and finally tied the ends sealing it off. After scoring the skin and rubbing the pig with a blended mixture of garlic, olive oil, and fennel seed, the whole beast was put into a 300 degree oven for four hours. As the fourth hour passed, I threw on the afterburners and set the temp to 450 degrees.
The skin crisped up and, after resting for thirty minutes, sliced easily. The cross-section eased any squeamishness associated with cooking a whole animal. Before slicing and serving with a giardiniera salad (roasted slice of caulflower topped with roasted peppers and garlic, green olives, celery, carrots and giardiniera consomme), there seemed to be a lot of angst around eating a whole pig. The cross section, as it did not include any bones, kept the squeamish folks at bay.
The pig and salad were served after a pureed soup of butternut squash and peanut butter (topped with apples and fennel) and before speculoos marshmallows and shortbread with lavender and vanilla sugar.
As I realized early this year, suckling pig is nearly foolproof and my biggest concern was overcomplicating something easy, but the reaction of some guests, for whom a suckling pig with bones would involve some serious tension, made me feel good about the decision to bone and the stuff the pig. The delicious juices from cooking the pig seeped into the cornbread stuff creating a disk that it more than the sum of its parts. There was sweetness from the apples and onions, herbaceous greenness from the rosemary and fennel and deep savoriness from the suckling pig and the corn.
Scoring the skin was another good decision. It was not nearly as pretty as it would have been unscored, but the crispiness of the skin was nearly perfect. My first time cooking a suckling pig was a success, but offered a bunch of lessons that I applied here. For a young family with no real holiday traditions, this may have just become our first.