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Suckling pig is a pig that can be roasted and eaten. Now, when I say a pig I don't mean ham or pork or bacon. What I mean is a whole pig. It is often seen in cartoons or movies involving banquets being eaten by medieval persons. It's the pig at the centre of the table with the shiny red apple in its mouth.

The suckling pig is prepared by cutting a dead pig down the front, and removing all the organs (e.g. heart, liver, intestines and spleen). Sausage meat can then be used to fill up the cavity left in the pig from whence the organs were removed.

The name "suckling pig" comes from the fact that the pig is young and thus was still suckling on its mother's teat when it was slaughtered. In case the name still doesn't make much sense to you, it is also sometimes called "sucking pig". Now doesn't that sound much more appetizing?

In case you have the urge and the courage to try it yourself, here's a recipe from the Complete Book Of Meat Cookery In Color published in 1971. Page 28 of the book shows a proud chef standing behind his monstrous four foot long roasted suckling pig. It is interesting to note that the chef bears an uncanny resemblance to his creation, strengthening the idea "you are what you eat". This recipe is on page 33:

ROAST SUCKING PIG

Serves 10-12
1 x 18 lb. sucking pig
oil
salt
1 small red apple

Stuffing:
6 lb. pork sausage meat
2 apples
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 eggs
3 cups soft breadcrumbs

Wipe moisture from inside of sucking pig. Place stuffing in cavity and sew up securely with white string. Place a piece of wood or a meat skewer into the pig's mouth to keep it open. Rub surface with oil, then salt and rub again with oil. Place sucking pig in a large roasting pan and bake in a moderate oven for 4 hours or until pig is cooked. The skin may be scored in a decorative pattern, if desired, before roasting. To serve, remove wood from pig's mouth and replace with a polished red apple. Serve hot or cold. To make stuffing, mix all ingredients together.
TIME 4 hours
TEMPERATURE 325-350 °F

It actually sounds rather easy, if not somewhat disturbing. There are hazards, of course, that my aunt B discovered. (Name truncated to protect the innocent).

My aunt B is quite inventive when it comes to food. Her culinary experiments are usually very tasty, and turn out quite well. So, if anyone could tackle Roast Suckling Pig, it was her. She invited her family over for a feast, and procured a suckling pig to prepare. The pig was a rather young one, but there still turned out to be a lot of hog to cook. So much that when my aunt tried to put the poor fella in the oven, Murphy's Law prevailed: The pig would not fit.

After careful consideration, a plan was made to bisect the pig down the middle. The plan was enacted and the two demi-pigs were put in the oven on separate trays.

Murphy's law was not beaten yet, as now the pig was taking too long to cook. The guests were getting hungry and the meal was nowhere near ready. So the oven temperature was increased. This was all fine and dandy until the living room adjacent to the kitchen began to fill with a peculiar smoke tinged with the scent of burning pork fat. Thus, the temperature was decreased.

Eventually, the pig was cooked. Putting the pig back together proved difficult, as the situation was not at all like a magician sawing a woman in half. My aunt simply decided to cut the pig into slices, and the suckling pig was reduced to tasty but unimaginative pork.

Of course, this all happened before I was born, but the story has become a legend in my family, and is repeated every time we go to my aunt B's house.

I roasted a suckling pig last weekend, for a friend's 21st birthday party. It was superb. I'm going to give the recipe I used and give some general advice on the subject of roasting a suckling pig.

Suckling pig is not the easiest thing in the world to obtain, but any good butchers should sell it. I got mine from Hester's, a truly excellent butchers in Vauxhall. Ask around well in advance of when you will need it, as they will have to order it. Expect to pay £4 a pound. It's not cheap, but let's face it, you're serving this to show off, so who cares?

Be aware that a whole pig is a slightly gruesome thing to serve and prepare. If you're the kind of person who usually buys chicken breasts rather than whole chickens, this probably isn't for you. And don't invite any veggies; even if they're usually fine with other people eating meat, they may take offence.

Preparing and cooking the whole thing will take up to nine hours. For this reason, it's not appropriate to serve as lunch, and you will need to get started reasonably early even to serve it for 7pm. You can fit a 20lb pig in a normal sized oven... just. It will be squashed against the sides, which is not ideal, but nor is it really problematic. For a larger pig (suckling pigs go up to about 30 lbs) you will need a big oven. Serve it with dumplings or baked potatoes, apple sauce, and salad.

Ingredients Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C, and take the pig out of the 'fridge
  2. Put the quartered onions, sage, and crushed garlic into a blender, and mince finely.
  3. Mix the onions with the breadcrumbs, pork, eggs, salt and pepper in a large bowl, until homogeneous.
  4. The pig will come with a large incision in the belly, from which the guts will have been removed. Remove the lungs, heart, kidney, and liver from the pig, if your butcher hasn't already done so. Fill the cavity with the stuffing.
  5. With a sharp knife, punch a dozen holes down each side of the incision, then stitch it up with the twine. Tie the front and back trotters together seperately. Put the apple in the pig's mouth
  6. If it's going to be a tight squeeze in your oven, put foil on the sides of the pig, or make sure the inside of your oven is spotlessly clean. Put the pig on a very large roasting tray (a (non wireframe) oven shelf will do) and put it in the oven.
  7. After half an hour, turn the heat down to 180C, and cover the top of the pig with foil.
  8. Cook for a total of 20 minutes per pound (about 7 hours)
  9. Remove from the oven, and leave to rest for half an hour before serving.

Carving the roast pig should be easy, as it will be very tender. Most of the meat is around the upper portions of the legs. There's little on the ribs, it's mostly cartilage. This amount should just about serve 20 people, although not with huge portions. The stuffing is particularly yummy with apple sauce.

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