The whole hog
It's Father's Day next week, but if you want to make this dish for him, you'll need to plan ahead. Order the whole suckling pig from your pork butcher well in advance.
Whole roast suckling pig (pictured)
Of all the photo shoots I've done for the recipe column in Post Magazine, this one was by far the most difficult. We ordered two piglets, and hoped they would be small enough to fit neatly into the oven and onto the barbecue - we wanted to try both cooking methods, to find which was the best. (Both were good, but next time, I'll stick to the oven: it's easier to control the heat so the meat cooks at a steady temperature, it takes less time, the skin is crisper and the pan underneath the pig captures all the delicious drippings.)
What we ended up with were piglets that weighed about 5kg each and measured more than 60cm from nose to tail. One barely fit onto the barbecue; the second one wouldn't fit stretched out in the oven (which measures about 45cm by 45cm) so we had to tuck the legs under the body and put the pig into the oven on the diagonal.
Getting the pig ready is the hard part, but once it's cooking, all it takes is time. And, yes, you could simply buy a roast suckling pig from a siu mei shop, but what's life without challenges? And dear old Dad will appreciate your efforts.
1 suckling pig weighing 5kg or less
Medium-grained sea salt or kosher saltAromatics (you'll need lots of these) - celery (at least two heads) and about a dozen each of carrots and onions
Seasonings, such as thyme sprigs, bay leaves and whole garlic cloves (unpeeled)
Freshly ground black pepper
1kg small whole potatoes (optional)
Olive oil, as needed
If possible, get the pig two days before you're going to roast it. It should be butterflied - the body split lengthwise through the stomach, so it lays flat.
Scrub the pig thoroughly with plenty of cold, running water. If there are any fine hairs, pluck them out (or use a butane or propane torch to burn them off).
Dry the pig inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle salt liberally over the entire cavity of the pig, sprinkling more heavily over the thicker, meatier parts of the animal, such as the breast and legs. Put the pig into a large plastic bag (a clean bin-liner is good) then refrigerate until the day you want to roast it.
Take the pig out of the fridge about three hours before you're going to cook it. It takes about three to five hours to cook on the barbecue (depending on the size of your grill) and at least two hours in the oven, so plan accordingly to fit your meal time (adjust the cooking time if the pig is smaller).
Remove the pig from the plastic bag and lay it on its back on a large work space. Dry the cavity with paper towels, then flip the pig so it's skin-side up. Dry the skin thoroughly with paper towels. Sprinkle salt liberally over the skin (you'll need more salt than you might think) and massage it in well.
Leave the pig at room temperature (or in an air-conditioned room, if it's hotter than 25 degrees Celsius) until it's time to cook it. If you're going to barbecue the pig, start heating the coals so they're ready in time, and have enough of them so they'll last for the whole cooking process. If cooking it in the oven, pre-heat it to 160 degrees.
Peel the carrots and onions. Cut the carrots, onions and celery into large chunks, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. If using potatoes, put them in salted water, bring to the boil, cook for five minutes and drain them - then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt in the same way.
Once again, dry the pig with paper towels. Pour olive oil over the entire pig and massage it into the meat and skin. Sprinkle the cavity with black pepper. Wrap the ears, tail and feet with aluminium foil so they don't burn. Put a chunk of carrot into the pig's mouth to prop it open.
Line the barbecue rack or oven rack with aluminium foil, poking several holes into it so the heat can penetrate.
On the foil, lay a bed of carrot, onion and celery, adding the seasonings, if using them. The bed should be thicker where the thinner parts of the pig (stomach and waist) will be.
Lay the pig on top of the vegetables, manipulating it so it fits on the rack. If barbecuing it, surround it with the potatoes. If cooking the pig in the oven, put the potatoes on the oven roasting pan and set it under the rack holding the pig, so they get flavoured with the drippings. Cook the pig in a covered barbecue (with the air vents half open, and replenishing the coals as needed) or in the oven.
Check the pig after three hours on the grill, or two hours in the oven - the skin should be taut and starting to brown, and the meat should be firm (check earlier, if the pig is smaller). The pig is ready when the juices run clear (not pink) when poked with a metal skewer in the meatiest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone. Increase the oven temperature to 230 degrees and cook until the skin is deep golden.
When the pig is ready, remove it from the oven or barbecue and leave for 30 minutes before cutting into large chunks and serving with the vegetables, potatoes and drippings.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee