As the holiday season approaches and we start hearing Christmas carols and jingles, pork becomes a major topic of discussion among my family and friends. All of us are expected to know exactly where to get the freshest and tastiest pigs as we prepare to improve our favorite cooking method and marinating concoction. This seems to be a yearly mental exercise, for most of us neither buy nor cook them.
Once we start getting in the groove for the holidays, the invitation to Emilio and Liliana Calleja’s Christmas party seals the fact that the season is here. We know that we will have the opportunity to get together with old friends, make new ones and taste one of the best “lechon asados” of the year.
Emilio and his Caja China (a stainless steel lined box where you burn the charcoal on top, is used to roast pork and made famous by Bobby Flay on the Food Channel), have established a reputation for roasting a tasty pig. Many of us will use it as the standard to measure others for the rest of the upcoming year.
The word “lechon”, which is extensively used throughout Spanish speaking countries in reference to roasted pork, originated from the Spanish term leche (milk) referring to a suckling pig. The term pork generally means a young pig under a year old; most pigs slaughtered around the world, are now between 6 and 9 months old.
While small suckling pigs have placed towns like Segovia, Spain and Mealhada, Portugal (where they are respectively called “cochinillo” and “leitão assado”) on the map, in most Latin American countries, medium-sized adult pigs are used for roasting. In a town like Guavate, Puerto Rico, “lechon asado” is the only reason for its existence and medium to large size pigs are used.
The difference in flavors is partly due to their size and weight, but it is easy to conclude that they are both delicious.
No one country or culture has an exclusive on pigs. It is one of the most consumed meats in the world with evidence that they were domesticated as early as 5000 BC.
There is a lot of truth to the old saying that everything but the pigs squeal can be used. Pigs are bred primarily for their meat, while trimmings and lesser cuts are used for sausages. Their skins can and have been used for leather in making shields and shoes, bones for tools and weapons, hair for furniture and bristles for brushes. In today’s market place, most pork products are cured and sold in the form of ham and bacon.
No restaurant can boast to appreciate the versatility of pigs more than St. John Restaurant in London, England which was once ranked # 14 in the world. Chef/owner Fegus Henderson whom Anthony Bourdain has in so many words called the most revolutionary food innovator of our time, has found the “true glories of pork” in the many dishes and menu items found at his restaurant. Many of the recipes from the restaurant are found in Chef Henderson’s book called “Nose to Tail Eating – A Kind of British Cooking: St. John Cookbook” where he literally shows us how to cook almost every part of a pig. Since I could not find a recipe for the nose in the book, we are going to refer to it as from ears (Pea and Pig’s Ear Soup) to tail (Crispy Pig Tail).
Though available year-round, for some reason, fresh pork is more plentiful and at lower prices from October to February. Maybe they know… this is the season for pork. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year.