Pork has been at the heart of Spanish cuisine for centuries, says Anya von Bremzen, food columnist with Travel & Leisure who has closely covered the Spanish food scene. Ever since Spain expelled the “infidel” Jews and Moors in 1492, Spaniards have looked upon pork consumption as almost a symbol of their Catholicism. Hams hang from the rafters in tapas bars, and roast suckling pig—cochinillo asado—remains the beloved dish of celebrations and holidays.
At Mesón Cándido in Segovia, where roasting pork is an art form, chef Cándido López Cuerdo boasts that the restaurant’s roast suckling pig is so tender, you can carve it with the edge of a plate. He demonstrated the method, and the promised carving, at the Worlds of Flavor conference at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.
The keys to success:
- The piglet must be only three weeks old and fed on nothing but mother’s milk.
- The suckling pig is butterflied and the interior brushed with butter and seasoned with salt. As it roasts, it rests on a rack with water underneath.
- The roasting takes 2-1/2 hours at 375°F, the first 1-1/2 hours with the skin side down, and the final hour with the skin side up.
Throughout Spain, cutting-edge chefs are taking pork cookery in new directions, using novel techniques. Chef Joan Roca of Celler de Can Roca in Girona, a restaurant with two Michelin stars, cooks a rib section of suckling pig in a vacuum bag, in a water bath. The process takes 18 hours at 70°C (158°F). Then he crisps the skin side and serves the pork with caramelized shallots and a sweet-and-sour orange sauce. The combination of ingredients is traditional, but the cooking method and presentation are contemporary.
“All these techniques are in the service of bringing out the inherent quality of the ingredients,” says von Bremzen. “It’s not about impressing anyone or mixing a lot of flavors on the plate. It’s very minimalist and rigorous and about having you see the ingredient in a new way. There’s a constant dialogue between the old and the new in Spain.”