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China Porks up in the Boar Year
Roast suckling pig is a delicacy that is popular at most Chinese holidays and special occasions (such as business opening ceremony), especially at Chinese New Year feasts and wedding banquets. Chinese New Year food is all about symbols, symbols denoting prosperity, good luck, fortune and health. The custom of eating pork on New Year's is based on the idea that its rich fat content signifies wealth and prosperity; while a whole suckling pig is a nod to togetherness the entire family’s good fortune.
The chef will cook the dish by skewering a small piglet, spread-eagled on a pitch-fork, and roasting it slowly over a fire. The piglet is gutted and coated inside with fermented bean curd, sesame paste, Fen liquor and garlic-flavored sugar and then roasted until its skin is golden-red and shiny as lacquer. The custom is to eat the crisp, crackling skin first and then the tender, smooth-textured flesh.
The dish will be served with the roast-red piglet being cut into little rectangles. There will also be a plate of egg-roll skins (or Beijing pig pancakes), thin as lace, and probably some slivers of cucumber and what looks like a platter of dark barbecue sauce. When eating the dish, use your chopsticks to lift a thin layer of egg roll skins off the common platter and on to your plate; then use a spoon to ladle a small amount of sauce onto the egg roll skin. Use your chopsticks again and put the cucumber and the piglet skin onto the egg roll skin; then use your fingers to gently roll the concoction on your plate into a small cigar and eat. The process is almost the same with one of eating Peking Duck.
In Chinatown, you can ask all Cantonese Roast meat store to bake one for you. The standard price is about $100 each. Some times they hang one or two with the Roast Ducks and Soy Sauce Chickens. You can also prepare the dish by yourself, though it will be a big project. Here is a recipe for you.
For the pig:
1 suckling pig (12 to 14 pounds dressed weight)
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/4 cup coarse salt
3 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
For the sauce:
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
Beijing pig pancakes (see recipe)
8 scallions, trimmed and chopped.
Beijing Pig Pancakes
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
6 ounces boiling water
Dark sesame oil for brushing.
Combine flour and water in a bowl and stir until smooth. Knead on a work surface for 10 minutes. On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a cookie cutter, cut out circles 2 1/2 inches wide. Brush tops with sesame oil and join into pairs, oiled sides together. Roll out each pair into a 6-inch round. Cook in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, 2 minutes per side.
1. Measure oven to see if the pig can lie flat on a baking sheet or if it must be cut at the joints and folded. Grind peppercorns and fennel seeds, then mix with salt and five-spice powder and rub inside and outside pig; hang it up for a few hours or overnight (to crisp skin).
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the pig on a large baking sheet, rub with oil and cover the ears with foil. Roast 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and roast 1 1/2 hours, until skin is browned and crisp.
3. For the sauce, combine hoisin sauce, water and oil in a bowl and mix.
4. To serve, cut the skin into squares and shred. Spread sauce on a pancake, add a piece of skin, then some pork and scallions. Fold the pancake and wiggle your tongue.