Region: Italy, Sardinia
Difficulty: Labor Intensive
The slaughter of the pig across the northern Mediterranean is a time of celebration. The whole family and the village partake in the festivities. Although the moment of slaughter is a solemn affair, it immediately turns joyous when Sardinians clean the pig for roasting, as in this porceddu. If the pig is not to be spit-roasted, it is then butchered, with use found for every part of the pig. Both the farmer and his wife make lard and mustela (pancetta) to season cabbage, wild fennel, or chicory minestrone. The trotter might be stuffed and the head boiled and served as a delicacy. The ham is used to make prosciutto, and the intestines cleaned to make sausages. The blood, carefully collected at the time of slaughter as it drains from the pig, is mixed with pine nuts, raisins, and honey to become a delicious sweet.
There are two ways in which this traditional suckling pig is prepared. For the first method, a large pit is dug in the ground and covered with rocks. A large fire is built upon the rocks, and when it has burned for many hours, the pig is set upon it and covered with hot coals, which are then covered with myrtle branches. The earth is piled on top, leaving no evidence of what is happening under the ground. This method was typical of the bandits who once populated the desolate reaches of the island's interior.
In the second method, a fire is built with aromatic woods such as juniper, mastic, olive, arbutus, or holm oak. The pig is splayed and affixed to a large strong stick that is pushed into the ground in front of the fire, and basted with a chunk of pork fat. Once the pig is done, it is smothered with myrtle leaves and left for 30 minutes before carving.
In place of the exotic woods, build a fire with whatever wood you have available. Once you begin to roast the pig, throw any combination of leftover nut shells, dried herb twigs such as thyme, marjoram, oregano, mint, or basil, bay leaves, or water-soaked apple wood chips onto the fire to create an aromatic smoke. In this country, myrtle is used only for ornamental plant purposes and it is unlikely you will find pesticide-free myrtle. After experimenting I believe that the closest thing to myrtle is a mixture of bay and sage leaves. If unavailable, use rosemary leaves to smother the finished pig.
This magnificent roast suckling pig requires a grand occasion--perhaps a wedding, holiday, or gathering of great friends. It is well worth the effort. If you lack an outdoor fireplace or do not want to dig a fire pit, you can use your grill by piling all the coals to one side, setting a drip pan in the other side, and jury-rigging the spitted pig over the drip pan, leaning it towards the heat of the coals.
[photo: Roberto Ventre, Flickr]
Yield: Makes 12 servings
Preparation Time: 7 to 9 hours
|One 15-to-18 pound suckling pig, cleaned|
|1 pound pork fat or salt pork, in one piece|
|Myrtle or sage and bay leaves (see above)|
1. Prepare a hard wood fire in a fire pit, grill, or smoker and let it burn for 3 hours, replenishing as needed with wood, until you have a good supply of hot coals. Affix the pig to a straight hard stick that you should be able to find lying around (this might take you 15 minutes) and place 20- inches in front of the fire, chest side towards the fire. Do not use wood made of composite materials. The pig should be leaning slightly towards the fire. Make sure there is a drip pan under the pig to catch the dripping fat.
2. Roast for 3 to 4 hours, basting with the salt pork or pork fat affixed to a meat fork. Turn and continue roasting for another 3 to 4 hours. Test for doneness by pulling on one of the ears; it should almost come off. Let the pig sit for 30 minutes on a bed of myrtle or bay leaves before carving.
Note: Depending on a variety of factors the cooking time could be as much as 12 hours so start earlier enough. If the pig is done before you are ready to eat, it can be kept warm, juicy, and delicious for hours covered in aluminum foil.