OUR SUCKLING PIG
Roasted suckling pig is considered by José María to be the standard-bearer for both his menu and for the cultural-gastronomic heritage of the Segovian people. His unflagging concern for the quality of the product has led to ongoing research into how to improve the way it is raised and cared for so that each table can be served the most unique and authentic roasted suckling pig Segovia has to offer.
The suckling pig has had an ongoing presence in the gastronomic and cultural history of Segovia, and is rooted in tradition. If we observe the tastes, the recipes and the customs of its preparation across different countries and regions, we may arrive at the conclusion that our recipe here in Segovia is the most surprising one of all, due to its simplicity and the naturalness with which we treat the product when cooking it.
In China, Greece, Corsica … and many other places where suckling pig is a very popular dish, the recipes have a general tendency to tenderize, marinate and stuff the pig with a variety of herbs and spices …, while the popular Segovian recipe mainly relies on the outstanding product itself, with just the added condiments of salt and pepper.
As a result of this unique preparation, it is easy to assume that the gastronomic success of our suckling pig must depend primarily on the raw material, as it does not allow for condiments or elaborate sauces, which might mask the main product.
In his quest to achieve the best quality raw materials, José María created his own breeding farm to bring about, following the first scientific studies into cross-breeding and the appropriate feeding of pregnant mothers, an exceptional product.
Later, in 2002, this goal would lead him – along with other collaborators, to create PROCOSE (the Association for the promotion of the suckling pig of Segovia), which is in charge of the denomination “Marca de Garantía” for the roasted suckling pigs of Segovia, a brand officially awarded and registered by the Ministry of Agriculture; José María is the chairman of the association.
All these considerations led us to consider the need to resolutely undertake this project, in the knowledge that suckling pig is the most popular dish in our restaurant, and always with the intention of obtaining better quality raw materials. Finally, using well-refined techniques and the indispensable help of our traditional oven, we obtain from this singular product a healthy and appetizing delicacy to delight and satisfy the most demanding palates of the critics, gourmets and social diners who fill our dining rooms every day, proud to make a contribution to the image that Segovia has as a gastronomic and tourist city par excellence.
To this end, we created breeding farms equipped with the most modern and highly sterilised facilities, which currently house around 500 female breeders, and which is the first experimentation project in Spain dedicated exclusively to piglets. Alive, these tend to range between 4.200 and 4.800kg in weight, which they reach in a maximum of 15 to 20 days of life.
Our main concerns have arisen around genetics, cross-breeding, and nutrition, not forgetting our rigid discipline regarding sterilisation and healthcare. With this study of breeds and cross-breeds, we are aiming to achieve a balance between the tenderness and the taste of the meat, in addition to a thin layer of skin, with an optimal fat level. To this end we have carried out cross-breeding which has enabled us to obtain some very positive results.
We have also come to the conclusion that the feeding of the selected females, both during gestation and lactation, is an extremely influential factor in the final results, especially during lactation. This is easy to understand, given that in its short lifespan the suckling pig feeds exclusively on breast milk. In addition, we need to find a balance between weight and lifespan. In other words, we would not get the quality we aim for if a suckling pig needed more than 3 weeks to achieve its ideal weight. It is therefore crucial to achieve high quality breast milk, in addition to sufficient quantity.
Although it may seem simple, undertaking this lengthy process requires disciplined procedures and the joint contribution of continued technical advice from a veterinarian, thorough sanitary controls, as well as the untiring efforts of the farmer in pursuit of the goals set, taking notes of all the observations.
Finally, in the oven and then at the table, that is where the most important results ultimately come in, observing which preferences are the ones that most satisfy the diners.
“Dear José Maria:
You sent a suckling pig to me at the Institute of Nutrition, and in a separate note I am notifying you of the scientific findings in terms of numbers and bars.
First and foremost it is my duty to congratulate you and to thank you for the untiring efforts that you put into the bodily health of your diners, and yet no less high are your demands for the care of their spirits, through the pleasure of the table and the tenderness of your roasted pig.
As for the quality of the fats, I must say, there are plenty of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are the ones that are recommended for a healthy diet. Obviously there is also so-called saturated fat, which although not advisable, is not present in excessive quantities. But also without it, your suckling pig would not have that crunchy textural richness or that rainbow of sensations that transpose one to that gastronomic paradise, where many foods are called upon and yet few are chosen, and among these latter, dear Jose Maria! is your suckling pig.
And without further ado, I send you a most well-deserved greeting and my admiration for the skills of your unparalleled cooking.”
Dr. J. Mataix
Our thanks and our memories are with Dr. Mataix, who passed away in 2008.
We carried out our final study through multiple combinations of the factors mentioned above. Once the animals are sacrificed, they are marked so we can monitor the individual results of each one. Observing their behaviour in the oven, and conducting a disciplined quality study, in which we take into account the cooking, the texture of the skin or crust, the juiciness of the loin, the amount of fat, and also undertake an organoleptic examination, to evaluate the flavours and aromas. We thereby establish a score that determines a rating for each pig.
- Find out its origin, breed and family.
- Find out if the breeders are being fed with suitable and natural feed.
- Their age should not exceed three weeks, with an ideal weight of 4.2 to 4.8 kg slaughtered and not eviscerated.
The recipe is simple, but it calls for dedication and sensitivity from point of slaughter to serving on the table.
How to prepare it
After being slaughtered, well bled, skinned and gutted, the pig is washed using a jet of cold water until it is white inside and out. Placing the suckling pig on a table, we open the spine using the point of a knife from the neck to the tail, taking care not to break the skin. We arrange a few bars on a casserole dish or roasting dish, pour in a little water, put the suckling pig on top and on its back, with seasoning on the inside, and put it in the oven.
In the oven
At a temperature of approximately 200 degrees centigrade, we put the suckling pig in as it is. After about two hours, we remove it, add water to the pan (which will have evaporated) and if the pig has got a bit of colour we turn it over. Now with the loin upwards, we prick the skin carefully, brush with virgin olive oil all over the loin and then we put it in back in the oven for an hour or so. Over the last half hour, we will be watchful to check whether we need to protect any part of it from excess heat: ears, legs … When we feel that the skin is nicely golden and crispy the pig is probably ready, so we then take it out of the oven and serve it on the table.
Serving and carving
According to tradition our roast suckling pig is served on the table whole, as it came out of the oven. It is cut or carved onto a plate in front of the diners. This is a ritual which serves to demonstrate just how perfectly cooked and tender it is. The fat is removed from the cooking juices and salt is added to taste, then they are taken away and served separately, extremely hot, in a clay jug.