Thanks to National Roast Suckling Pig Day, on December 18, you don’t have to wait until Christmas to pig out on a decadent feast. Suckling pigs are considered a delicacy because their meat is more tender, juicier, and gelatinous (due to the higher levels of collagen) than adult pigs. The reason for this is they’re between the ages of two and six weeks and have not yet been weaned off their mother’s milk, hence the name “suckling”. If you can bring it over your heart to put a whole baby pig, from nose to tail, in your oven or on your grill, it makes for a sumptuous meal that can feed 20 adults — so gather your family and extended family and get roasting (preferably 5 hours before you plan to dish up).
History of National Roast Suckling Pig Day
No one is sure why or when National Roast Suckling Pig Day came about, but it’s no surprise that there’s a day dedicated to this delicacy. We’ve all probably seen similar pictures in children’s storybooks and cartoons of a pig on a large dish with an apple in its mouth in the center of a table surrounded by medieval festivities. Pigs and people have come a long way together in history. They’re one of the very first animals to have been domesticated by humans.
Suckling pigs are known to have been the centerpiece of feasts and banquets in various cuisines and are a traditional dish in several countries, such as China, Spain, the U.S., and the Philippines. Some of the earliest references to the suckling pig appear in ancient texts dating back to the sixth century, such as in the Salian Law: “If someone has stolen a suckling pig and this is proven against him, the guilty party will be sentenced to 120 denarii which adds up to three solidi [Latin coins].” Clearly, people had already quite valued their piggy property in those days.
However, Spain is generally recognized as the true country of origin for the tradition of roasting a suckling pig, which they call cochinillo asado. The most well-known Spanish region for this dish is Castile and, more specifically, the city of Segovia. It is said to have been brought to Spain by the Roman invasion of what was then called Hispania in 218 B.C. There was an upsurge in the popularity of the dish in the 1930s, when the owner of a Segovian tavern began cutting the roast suckling pig with the edge of a plate, to demonstrate the tenderness of the meat, and add some showmanship to the way the dish was presented to its diners. This sparked a new trend, which continues to be performed in various Spanish restaurants to this day.
The delicacy is such a significant part of Spain that it’s even been alluded to by various literary greats. Miguel de Cervantes, in his novel “Don Quixote”, wrote that Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza come across a wedding in the Castilian countryside where they’re met with the sight of several suckling pigs roasting over a fire. Ernest Hemingway also famously enjoyed this dish and mentions his favorite Spanish restaurant, renowned for its roast suckling pig, in “The Sun Also Rises”.
National Roast Suckling Pig Day timeline
The Roman Empire invades Hispania, bringing with it the roast suckling pig tradition and kick-starting the dish’s popularity among the Spanish.
The earliest mention of the suckling pig appears in records dating from the sixth century, such as the Salian Law.
Casa Botin in Madrid opens, which is known as the oldest restaurant in Madrid and reportedly makes the best cochinillo asado.
Don Candido, a Segovian tavern-owner, begins entertaining his guests by cutting roast suckling pig with the edge of a plate to demonstrate its tenderness.
National Roast Suckling Pig Day FAQs
Why is National Roast Suckling Pig Day celebrated?
Because who doesn’t love a succulent roast big enough to cater for any family gatherings or functions. It’s also a great way to practice your hosting and roasting skills before Christmas.
How do you make roast suckling pig at home?
There are many recipes online — you can follow the traditional Chinese recipe, which includes tofu, or the traditional Spanish recipe, seasoned with salt, garlic, and thyme. Then all you need is a large enough oven or grill.
Has there been any backlash from animal rights groups?
Yes, not only because of the fact that suckling pigs aren’t fully grown or haven’t even been weaned off their mother’s milk by the time they are slaughtered but also due to the conditions that some farms subject them to. PETA has also argued that, since pigs are believed to be highly intelligent social animals, this makes their exploitation even more unethical. Make sure your butchery sources their meat from a farm that follows ethical and humane practices.
How To Celebrate National Roast Suckling Pig Day
Roast your own suckling pig, of course!
It’s not your typical after-work slapdash dinner. If you want a well-cooked piglet that’s tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, it will need to roast for about 1.5 hours. However, if you follow the traditional Spanish recipe, the preparation is pretty straightforward: simply season it with garlic, a generous amount of salt, and thyme. Pair it with a good red wine and buen provecho!
Dine out at a restaurant that does it in the traditional way
If you don’t have the time or energy to cook it yourself, treat yourself to the full experience at a restaurant that might do it even better. Although many restaurants in Spain and China specialize in authentic roast suckling pig, you can also experience it in your home-town. Various eateries around the U.S. serve this dish on National Roast Suckling Pig Day.
Throw a feast
Aside from roasting a suckling pig yourself, you could also make a whole do of it and invite over all your friends and family — a big meal like that needs to be shared, after all. Make it a medieval- or Spanish-themed dress-up party. Set a long table with silver goblets and crockery, and don’t forget to add the final touch before placing your centerpiece dish on the table: an apple in the mouth of your roasted porker.
5 Facts About National Roast Suckling Pig Day That Will Blow Your Mind
The oldest restaurant in the world serves it
According to the Guinness World Records, Casa Botin, which reportedly serves the best cochinillo asado is the oldest restaurant in the world.
It won’t increase your cholesterol
The meat of a suckling pig contains 40% less fat than an adult pig, so it won’t boost your cholesterol levels.
It’s a sign of prosperity
In China, a whole roast pig is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, so it’s often served at weddings and other special occasions.
Hemingway was an earnest fan
Casa Botin was frequented by famous American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, who took a particular liking to roast suckling pig and regularly indulged in the delicacy at a table in a corner beside the kitchen.
The plate-cutting tradition has become more spectacular
Nowadays, in some traditional Spanish restaurants, in addition to cutting your roast suckling pig with the edge of a plate, the chef ceremoniously holds up the plate and dramatically smashes it on the floor.
Why We Love National Roast Suckling Pig Day
It’s a traditional dish shared by many cultures
China, Spain, and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that have adopted roast suckling pig into their cuisine. Other places like Porto Rico, Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines also love it. So although it is practically universal, it is cooked in many different ways unique to each culture.
It’s not only delicious, but it’s healthier, too
Since the meat is more gelatinous, it can help strengthen your bones and the high collagen levels are good for your skin. Not to mention the 40% lower fat percentage than adult pigs!
It can feed a whole family, for days!
Don’t we all love a meal that can be dished up in generous portions, and still allows for second helpings? And if you’re only feeding a family of four, there will most probably be leftovers that can be enjoyed for a week.
National Roast Suckling Pig Day dates