For a special Christmas treat for my family I thought I would try my hand at roasting a suckling pig. Having had a few versions this year both in Spain at Madrid Fusión and at Casa Lucio as well as Candido Lopez' magnificent specimens at Starchefs and having sampled a few adult pig roasts, I was in the mood for a little cochinillo. I knew I couldn't source like Candido, it is difficult to find true suckling animals in the U.S., but I do have a few connections and I ordered as small a one as I could from Jerry Bornt of Bornt Farms in Troy, N.Y. He managed to get me one weighing 18 pounds. Although I preferred an even smaller one for space considerations, it would do.
He picked it up on Friday, but weather and work considerations made getting it then impossible for me. On Saturday morning my son and I trekked through the snow down to the Troy Farmers market to pick up the young animal carcass. By this time, I knew the bulk of our guests would be unable to attend, but we would proceed anyway. Along the way we stopped at the saratoga market in addition to Troy. It was disconcerting to see what should have been very busy market days sparsely attended, but so it was.
Once home, I cleaned the carcass in my sink, drieed it and brushed it with lard. My guide was the notes and photos I published on the eGullet Society Forums from Candido Lopez' presentation at Starchefs in September. One thing I didn't fully anticipate was how difficult it would be to position the piglet and still fit it in my oven. I determined that I would use my CVap, which is slightly bigger than my wall oven. I tried to splay it on its back like Lopez did for the first part of the roasting process, though I could not keep it from tipping to one side. I jury-rigged the situation with a roasting rack to prop it up and then cooked it at 97ºC with a browning setting of 10 for an effective temperature of about 180ºC for about an hour and a half. At the point it looked done, but I let it sit at the CVap "hold" setting (64ºC) for another hour and a half. Initially the skin had crisped well, but after the high humidity "hold" it had become soft and rubbery. I took it out of the oven and let it sit, while I prepared the rest of my dinner and awaited the arrival of our guests.
I reheated the CVap to my original settings a short while later, then put the piglet back in for another half hour to try to dry the skin. Once I was ready to serve it, I brought it out to portion and plate it. It was neither as pretty as Candido's nor as easy to cut. He was able to cut his cochinillo with a plate – not me. Though not quite of the quality a his, my cochinillo was in fact cooked quite nicely. The meat just pulled off the bones and was moist and full of suckling pig deliciousness. The skin, while not quite cracklin' at that point was peeled and heated in a 400ºF oven for about 10 minutes and crisped up beautifully. I paired it with a 1997 Abadia retuerta from Sardon del Duero in Spain. We were left with few leftovers.