You’ve no doubt heard of Suckling Pig, but what exactly is this authentic Spanish delicacy? What is its history? How is it reared? How is it cooked? What makes it so utterly delicious and revered throughout Spain since medieval times?
Basco founder, and Basque chef, Javier De La Hormaza took time out to speak directly with Guillermo De Diego who is the Export Manager from Carnicas Tabladillo. This is one of Spain’s most respected producers of “Cochinillo de Segovia” – suckling pigs from Segovia in the Castile and León region, northwest of Madrid. They are one of the finest producers of suckling pig and are one of Basco’s bestsellers.
A suckling pig is a young pig, fed only with its mother’s milk, and that has an ideal weight of 3 to 6 kilos.
Guillermo explains a little about its history. “The roasted “cochinillo” has been part Castilian’s cuisine tradition since the Roman Empire invasión. It gained popularity by the 17th century when it was offered to travellers heading to the Court. By the mid-twentieth century, several restaurants in Segovia offered this exquisite dish. In times of bonanza, the suckling pig was considered a luxury product, as regular pigs yield many kilos of different types of meat, the cochinillo was very much a king´s caprice.”
When roasted, suckling pig is so wonderfully tender and succulent, it literally melts in your mouth. Its delicious sweet meat is contrasted by its incredibly crispy and light crackling.
Whole is the traditional Spanish way of serving suckling pig – for example, Basco’s marca de garantia Cochinillo de Segovia produced by Tabladillo, is one of their most popular products. However, other cuts are also available including a boneless joint for eight, a rack for two and also a leg of suckling pig for two to three people. For ultimate convenience, Basco also offers an oven ready suckling pig quarter for four people that you simply roast in the bag in two hours.
Suckling pig is a pig that is no more than 28 days old and hasn’t consumed any food other than breast milk. Its meat is known for being incredibly tender and juicy. Each weighs between 3 and 7 kg and the average size of a suckling pig is 54 cm long and 25 cm high. Guillermo goes into more detail. “At Tabladillo, we work with many different cochinillo cuts, including from the quarters to the ears and the sirloin.”
Apart from diet, age is what differentiates a suckling pig from a piglet. A suckling pig is around just one month old, whereas a piglet is approximately two months old.
Segovia has been the suckling pig’s home and part of the traditional Castilian menu since the time of the Roman Empire, where the wealthiest families enjoyed it. The tradition of the Segovian Cochinillo with salt and water has been maintained over the centuries. This was popularized in the seventeenth century in taverns and “figones”.
“By the twentieth century, the cochinillo reached international fame for its wonderful tenderness and dramatic serving method where it is carved with a plate, which is later smashed against the floor in front of the customer. This is a tradition that continues today” reveals Guillermo.
In the case of Tabladillo cochinillo, Guillermo believes that high standards are important. “Apart from official controls and having external lab services, we have our own veterinary technicians. They are in charge of the daily monitoring of the health of our animals at the farms, as well as the subsequent microbiological, chemical and physical analysis at the slaughterhouse.”
Once Tabladillo suckling pigs are yeaned, the mother´s roam free in their ceilinged enclosures. Where they are fed with fodder from high-quality cereals. Suckling pigs stay protected in their enclosure where they are fed by their mother at a stable temperature, as they are highly vulnerable to any change in conditions.
Guillermo is understandably extremely proud of the quality of his suckling pig. “An exclusive traceable monitoring process allows us to identify the origin of each cochinillo throughout the different stages of their production and the distribution. We ensure the highest quality and food safety for our final customers. Don’t forget that the quality of some of our piglets, identified with a band, is also reflected in the ‘Procose Quality Brand’, which is equivalent to a Protected Geographical Indication. This distinction is achieved through strict breeding and quality controls which gives our suckling pigs the prestigious “Tierra de Sabor” seal, which highlights agri-food products of distinguished quality.”
All Tabladillo suckling pigs stocked by Basco are produced entirely within the Community of Castile and León. They comply to all the conditions and requirements demanded by the Tierra de Sabor Brand Guarantee Use Regulation.
The cooking time of a suckling pig varies according to the size and type. For example, a whole large fresh cochinillo takes 3 hours 30 minutes to cook, whereas a suckling pig rack will take less time.
A whole Tabladillo suckling pig can feed up to eight people. The portion size depends on the weight of the suckling pig. It’s also important to take into account whether you’re serving suckling pig as a main or side dish, as well as knowing the number of diners and their ages, as the proportions will be different.
Javier really enjoys cooking suckling pig and has several recipes. The traditional Segovian way to roast suckling pig is whole, in an oven using this recipe. If you prefer a boneless alternative which is perfect for a Sunday roast or Christmas dinner, Javier has a recipe that is simple to execute and has delicious results. Finally, if you want an intimate dinner for two, Javier’s Crispy Suckling Pig Rack with Rosemary Juices recipe is rather special.
First place some wooden spoons or spatulas on the bottom of the oven tray – this prevents the skin from sticking. Add water generously until the wooden spoons or spatulas are completely covered. Preheat the oven for about 15 minutes at 180ºC. Place the suckling pig in the oven, skin side down. Roast at 180ºC for 1 hour and a half. Remove the suckling pig from the oven, turn it over and put it in the oven with the skin side up for a further 1.5 hours. Finally, strain the sauce and serve it on the side – never on top of the suckling pig as you don’t want to soften the crackling.
The Segovian style, which is always cooked in an oven, is the best and most authentic way to roast suckling pig. Spit roasting is not recommended as the suckling pig is small compared to larger piglets and adult pigs, which are better suited to being slowly roasted on a turning spit.
The traditional Segovian way to carve a suckling pig is to actually carve it with a plate as it so incredibly tender. This is mainly done in restaurants and is part of the theatre of eating cochinillo, but in private homes it is usually cut with a knife.
There are many ways to serve a suckling pig and the most common accompaniments are potatoes, fresh salads and other delicious side dishes.
Provenance is key with suckling pig. You need the reassurance of buying from a supplier who only deals with Spain’s very best producers who take quality in everything they do seriously. That is why all Basco suckling pig is reared, produced and specially imported direct from Tabladillo in Segovia. Whole, racks, boneless joints, legs and oven ready suckling can all be bought online here, perfectly packaged with frozen packs and delivered direct to your door.
21 May 2020
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