I thought you may enjoy this piece by the new york times in 2000.
Spain's Savory Suckling Pig
By ANN PRINGLE HARRIS; ANN PRINGLE HARRIS, WHO TEACHES ENGLISH AT THE FASHION INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY IN NEW YORK, WRITES FREQUENTLY ABOUT EUROPEAN COOKING.
LEAD: WHEN Don Quixote and Sancho Panza come upon a wedding feast in the Castilian countryside, the first thing they see is a huge steer on a spit, stuffed with ''twelve little suckling pigs embowelled, to give it the more savory taste.'' Today, roast suckling pig - cochinillo asado - plays as prominent a role in Castilian Spanish cuisine as it did in
WHEN Don Quixote and Sancho Panza come upon a wedding feast in the Castilian countryside, the first thing they see is a huge steer on a spit, stuffed with ''twelve little suckling pigs embowelled, to give it the more savory taste.'' Today, roast suckling pig - cochinillo asado - plays as prominent a role in Castilian Spanish cuisine as it did in Cervantes's day, but not as support for a steer; it is in itself a star attraction.
The land and the seasons determine what you eat in Spain, as they have for centuries. In the moist, green pasture lands of Galicia you expect, and find, beef; on the east and west coasts there will be shellfish. And in central Castile, where the arid tablelands turn almost purple in the light cast by the Guadarrama mountains, you know from the look of the fields that this is not a country for grazing. Here and there you may see sheep, but no herds of cattle, as in the northwest. Pigs are a natural livestock choice for the region, and the slaughter of young animals, baby lambs and goats as well as pigs, makes economic sense.
A suckling pig as the Spanish define it has fed only on mother's milk, has never been allowed to run free, and is no more than a month old. While suckling its young, the mother pig feeds on rye, oats, cabbage and potatoes. You can find little pigs on display in butcher shops, in the stalls of local markets, and - occasionally - in the windows of restaurants that serve cochinillo. The pig's skin looks white and waxy; at first you think it is wax, but on closer inspection you see tiny beads of moisture, a sign of freshness.
Americans tend to picture roast pig as grilled whole on a spit and garnished with an apple in its mouth. In Spain, however, the baby pig is traditionally butterflied, then roasted in an open earthenware dish, and if an apple were to be put in its mouth it would have to be the smallest of crab apples, since the pig, to qualify as a suckling, should weigh no more than about 3 kilos (6 to 7 pounds). Cochinillo asado can be found in Segovia, Avila and Arevalo - the three towns are all within 50 to 75 miles of Madrid - as well as in many restaurants in Madrid itself.
Diners should approach the dish with no preconceptions based on the typical American roast of pork. A more apt comparison would be to roast duckling. Although cochinillo doesn't taste like duckling, it has a similar texture, moist yet chewy, not muscled but not tender to the point of flabbiness; remember, it has had very little time to put on weight. Purists tell tales of cochinillo's falling apart when touched with the edge of a plate, but none of the restaurants that my husband and I visited put on this show, and indeed, a bit of al dente resistance suits the slightly smoky flavor of the meat, which is heightened by generous seasonings of garlic and, often, thyme.
THERE is a layer of fat under the skin, as with duckling, and one test of the skill of the preparation is to examine the underside of the skin. It should be well browned and as crusty as parchment outside, but the underlying fat should have been eliminated, or at least minimized, through long, slow cooking.
Cochinillo at Botins, in Madrid, meets this standard. In Hemingway's ''The Sun Also Rises,'' Jake Barnes takes Brett Ashley to Botin's, which he says is one of the best restaurants in the world. Certainly it is one of the most agreeable.
Madrilenos dine late, yet by 9:45 on a Friday night Botin's already had a line waiting for tables. The maitre d'hotel, courtly and grave, explained that the wait would be 30 to 35 minutes, and it fell precisely within that range. Periodically, as tables became available, people at the head of the line were shown to a bench and given menus to study. While waiting, they could survey the busy scene: bottles of wine being set up on the grainy, lime-washed service bar; hors d'oeuvres being prepared on the other side of the small waiting room, with its red-paneled walls, cream-painted arches, beamed ceiling and old-style mirrored cabinets; diners descending a curved staircase to a downstairs eating section. Blue and gold Spanish tiles and art objects set in lace-edged niches decorate a dining room on the main level, and midway through the meal musicians dressed in doublets and hose are likely to stroll in and serenade the diners, accompanying themselves on the guitar and the bandurria, a Renaissance instrument similar to a mandolin.
Cochinillo at Botin's is crisp outside, tender within and redolent of roast garlic. Its flavor hints at the evergreen oak used to fire the oven in which it cooks (ash and pine are other woods that may be used in earthenware ovens). Roast potatoes, the classic accompaniment, are served with it, and the waiter's suggestion of the house wine, a Valdepenas red from La Mancha, is an excellent choice.
Down the street from Botin's, at El Cuchi, you enter a different world. Here, the concept is restaurant-as-theater. There are bullfighting scenes on the walls, but a close look reveals that in most of them the bull has things well in control. Fresh-faced waiters dash about like runners in training, occasionally executing an exuberant pass with a tablecloth. A young woman in a peasant skirt pours tequila from a canteen strapped to her shoulders, and background music, which sounds like foreground music, runs to Mexican hits of the 40's or earlier.
El Cuchi is in fact one of a chain of Mexican restaurants (''Two hundred in Mexico, one in Madrid,'' a waiter said), but Madrid's young set seems to have taken kindly to its irreverent, new-world attitude toward the mystique of the bullring and Old Castile. Botin's Renaissance musicians are likely to quaff a 20th-century beer at its convivial bar, and prominent at the entrance is a sign that reads, ''Hemingway never ate here.'' Fittingly, El Cuchi takes liberties with Castilian cooking. Chunks of roast suckling pig arrive in an earthenware casserole, with potatoes and peppers; not your classic cochinillo.
EL CUCHI'S address - 3 Calle de Cuchilleros, or Street of the Cutlers - may explain its name. On the other hand, the logo, a broken fork with the fraction ''one-half'' printed over it, might just as well be taken as a spoof of Michelin's coveted knife-and-fork ratings, cuchillo being Spanish for knife.
Also informal, but more in the old Spanish style, is Los Galayos, just off the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Carved oak paneling, ropes of white garlic, hams hung to dry behind an attractively tiled bar, and colorful homespun curtains evoke the restaurant's 19th-century past; but the real heart of Los Galayos is its large brick oven, where suckling pig, baby lamb and cabrito - baby goat - are slowly roasted over a wood fire. The proprietor, Esteban Gonzalez Moreno, makes a specialty of dishes from Avila, his native city.
For cochinillo, the split, salted pig is placed on a round wood rack above a couple of inches of water in an oval-shaped, terra cotta baking dish. From time to time during cooking, the chef, Juan Batalla, pulls the dish out with a long metal fork and bastes the pig with melted lard and the cooking juices, to which garlic has been added. Diners at Los Galayos can begin with garlic soup, also a Castilian specialty, follow with cochinillo (served here with fried potatoes), and end with yemas -sweet cakes made with egg yolks, a special dessert of Avila.
Avila itself, known as the birthplace of St. Teresa, is about 70 miles northwest of Madrid. Surrounded by its original fortifications, which are in excellent condition, it also boasts a vast Romanesque basilica and a cathedral built over several centuries that has both Romanesque and Gothic elements.
ON the cathedral plaza is the former Valderrabanos Palace, which has been skillfully transformed into a hotel that offers modern comfort while retaining the atmosphere of a noble residence.
Within easy walking distance of the cathedral plaza, at Meson Del Rastro, one can eat cochinillo Avila style. It seems much the same as cochinillo in the style of Madrid, though perhaps a bit more salted and crusty on the outside; it is listed on the menu as toston, meaning roast. Diners enter El Rastro through a stone-paved courtyard leading to a reception room with a working fireplace - a welcoming spot on a cold night. The large dining room, also with a fireplace and with pairs of antlers on the walls, has the feel of a hunting lodge.
Segovia, a beautiful walled city perched above the surrounding plain, lays claim to cochinillo as its native dish. Several restaurants in the city serve it, but the classic one is the Meson de Candido. From its upstairs dining room, with beamed ceiling and walls covered with inscribed pictures from satisfied clients, it is possible to see the walls of the city lit at night, and to glimpse Segovia's fine Roman aqueduct, still in working order.
Cochinillo at Meson de Candido is well prepared, but it is presented on its own. Most diners will want to order potatoes and a vegetable or salad with it, because, although suckling pig is very filling, it is at its best when set off by foods with other flavors and textures. Diners who are not sated by all of this can go on to one of Meson de Candido's dessert specialties, a dish that corresponds roughly to our baked Alaska.
There are various recipes for the home preparation of roast suckling pig, some calling for the addition of white wine to the pan juices, others adding a sausage stuffing. But few home kitchens can provide what Spanish chefs consider the true essential ingredient of cochinillo asado: the old-style, wood-fired brick oven found in the classic restaurants of Castile.
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן