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Have You Roasted A Pig Yet?
16 February 2005
"Here you go - it's a tiny little guy," Helen Brouillard announces as a white-coated abattoir worker carries out a 15-pound suckling pig and starts to hog-tie it for the oven.
"All I do is spice mine up, lay him on his tummy in a deep pan - his head can stick up and you can tuck his feet in - and put him in the oven," advises Brouillard, who handles orders at Town & Country Farms. "If you find that his ears are getting too brown, put some tinfoil over them. If you need it in a hurry, tinfoil the whole guy. It's just basically like cooking a turkey."
She's right - roasting a pig is just like roasting a turkey. But while many Torontonians hold pig roasts all the time, others figure they're too intimidating to even contemplate.
The desire to add "pig roast" to my cooking C.V. takes hold after a food writers' conference in pork-loving Puerto Rico, where a hog is spit-roasted on the beach for our dining pleasure.
Three challenges back here in Canada: no beach, no backyard, no barbecue. One obvious solution: the oven.
It takes just two calls to track down a suckling pig in Toronto, home to every food imaginable.
My trusted butcher shop, WhiteHouse Meats, recommends Town & Country Farms, a third-generation family business that sells about 1,000 wholesale pigs a week at its Hornby abattoir (near Oakville) and at the St. Lawrence North market on Saturdays. (Call 905-878-3923.)
Co-owner Mike Dorgo, who has four major competitors, figures I'm just about the last person around who considers pig roasting a novelty. "The entire ethnic community in Toronto knows about it, and each one likes the pig at a different size. We do all sizes, anywhere from 15 pounders to full, mature pigs at 300 to 400 pounds."
Asian customers (mainly Chinese restaurants) look for 90 to 100 pounders. Eastern Europeans, particularly Croatians and Serbians, prefer 40 to 50 pounders. The Spanish and Portuguese community is fond of 18 pounders.
Some people like their pigs quartered or cut in portions; others like them whole. Everybody likes them around Christmas, New Year's and Easter - when prices climb - and for summer barbecues.
My 15 pounder - the smallest one available - costs $75 on Dec. 3. He would have fetched $110 a few weeks later.
As Dorgo explains, farmers sell their pigs on the open market based on live weight. Wholesalers like Town & Country sell by the piece instead of per pound - based on fluctuating market prices - so pigs under 20 pounds usually cost $55 to $65, while 80 pounders generally fetch $130.
"The pork industry is considered to be the white meat of choice right now," says Dorgo. "It's not an expensive cut of meat when you start pricing it against chicken breasts, T-bone steaks or anything like that."
Roasting pigs is surprisingly straightforward. Dorgo roasts 15 to 20 pounders at 300F for about three hours, cranking up the heat to 500F for the final 15 minutes to crisp the skin.
At Ontario Pork, chef/nutritionist Charles Bruce-Thompson says "there is a welter of advice on the Web, much of it repetitive or contradictory." Oven roasting a whole pig, he opines, is "a very easy task - at heart, just season, roast and carve."
And so I do.
Bruce-Thompson says that in an ideal world, the pig's loin should cook to 150F, legs to 160F and shoulder to 170F. To slow the cooking in the loin, cover it with foil for the first 30 minutes.
The truly ambitious can go to www.porkpeople.com , click on "recipes" and then "cooking the whole hog" for info on barbecuing an 80-pound pig (if you're got 12 hours to spare).
Oven-Roasted Suckling Pig With Guava Glaze
Adapted from A Taste of Puerto Rico: Traditional and New Dishes from the Puerto Rican Community (Dutton, 1994) by Yvonne Ortiz. To make 1/4 cup adobo (a Puerto Rican seasoning), combine about 1 tablespoon each garlic powder, onion powder and dried oregano with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Guava paste in sold in Latin American grocery stores, such as Perola's in Kensington Market.
1/4 cup adobo or other seasoning, or more to taste
Juice of 2 lemons
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
Leaves from 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 suckling pig (10 to 15 lb/4-1/2 to 7 kg), cleaned, washed, dried
3/4 cup guava jelly or paste
1/4 cup spicy or whole-grain mustard
In bowl, combine adobo or other seasoning, lemon juice, garlic and cilantro. Rub all over pig. Marinate, refrigerated and loosely covered, several hours to overnight.
Fold hind legs under belly; tie. Place pig, head up and on its belly, in large roasting pan or on sheet. Tent ears and tail with foil.
In food processor, combine guava and mustard. Process 15 seconds into liquid. Brush all over pig.
Roast in preheated 350F oven, basting occasionally with remaining guava sauce and any pan juices, until meat thermometer in thickest portion registers 160F in leg and 170F in shoulder. Cooking will take 3 to 4 hours, depending on pig's size. During last 15 minutes, raise heat to 500F and remove tinfoil to crisp pig's skin.
To serve, transfer pig to cutting board. Let rest, loosely covered, 15 minutes before carving.
Makes about 12 servings.
Pigeon Peas & Rice
Adapted from A Taste of the Caribbean Cookbook: The Complete A to Z Book of Authentic and Nouvelle Caribbean Cuisine (Caribbean Press, 2000) by Angela Spenceley.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small green bell pepper, minced
4 cups water + more as needed
2 cups white rice
19 oz (540 mL) can pigeon peas, drained
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt + pepper to taste
In deep saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion, celery, garlic and bell pepper. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until vegetables soften.
Add 4 cups water, rice, peas, tomato paste, cumin and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil over high heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is desired texture and water is absorbed, adding more water if needed.
Makes 8 side servings.
Papaya & Black Bean Salsa
Also from A Taste of the Caribbean Cookbook.
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup cubed, peeled papaya
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 small red onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green olives (optional)
19 oz (540 mL) can black beans, drained
In small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, sugar, garlic and vinegar.
In serving bowl, gently toss papaya, tomatoes, onion, olives (if using) and beans. Add dressing; gently toss. Serve at room temperature.
Makes about 3 cups.