This time of year calls for guilt-free pig-out sessions, and a handful of Miami restaurants are serving hogs on seasonal menus. Considered a farm-to-table delicacy, a suckling pig, or cochinillo asado, is a traditional holiday treat made with an entire piglet roasted whole — including its head and hooves.
Celebrating an occasion with a cochinillo isn't new. Records of roasted suckling pigs date back to the 1700s at family-run farms a couple hundred miles outside of Madrid. The dish has been mentioned in writings by authors including Cervantes and Hemingway.
To prepare the dish, a piglet is typically butchered at four to five weeks old, weighing no more than ten pounds. Cooking it requires a large, half-dome, open-faced brick oven. Depending on a chef's preference, the piglet can be rubbed with olive oil, butter, garlic, salt, and thyme.
SushiSamba executive chef Cesar Vega has developed his own spin on crafting the perfect cochinillo. He likes marinating the piglet in lemongrass, yuzu, and açaí before stuffing it with cured confit pork belly. To make sure the cochinillo doesn't burn or warp while cooking, he ties it with a metal stick from head to tail and covers the ears and tail with foil. After an hour of baking, he adds carrots, celery, onions, lemongrass, and a cup of sake to the roasting pan, then bakes it for another hour. At the end, he cranks up the oven temperature to 400 degrees and spreads more butter and salt on the cochinillo's skin to make sure the outside is crispy but the inside is juicy.
"Developing the perfect way to cook it came with years of cooking on Christmas with my family," he says. "It’s a tradition of ours to cook a whole pig every Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve. It was really developed by experimenting and developing new techniques over time."
It takes Vega about three hours to prepare one cochinillo. He says the piglet pairs well with a pinot noir.
"For me personally, Christmas without a slow-roasted pig is unimaginable," he says. "It’s a perfect dish to share between family and friends."
Though it might sound tempting, leave the cooking to the professionals with proper equipment. These four Miami restaurants are serving up their own variation on a traditional holiday hog. For an insider tip, call ahead to reserve a piglet as it takes hours of preparation and cooking time.
SushiSamba Miami Beach
One hog at the eatery feeds up to five diners for $169. The whole roasted suckling pig is carved and served tableside with yuzu-honey sweet potatoes, sake-braised Swiss chard, and crispy bok choy with apple blossom. A choice of two desserts is offered family-style following dinner. Add a magnum bottle of Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai sake and unlimited Cusqueña beer for an extra $150 per group. Seventy-two-hour notice and reservations are required.
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Bulla's cochinillo asado is served with patatas panaderas and a salad. A ten-pound pig for $300 can feed up to ten guests, and a slightly larger hog for $360 can serve up to 16.
Pubbelly: Chef Mendin’s Christmas Table
Choose between a six-, 11-, or 15-pound piglet serving parties of four to 12. Prices range from $299 to $450 per group depending on the size of the pig. All orders come with mofongo, arroz mamposteao, yuca with mojo, heirloom tomato salad, brussels sprouts, and a variety of sauces. It must be ordered at least two days in advance and is available for dine-in or takeout.
La Feria del Mercado de San Miguel (301 Biscayne Blvd.)
For a table of four, nosh on a wood-fire-roasted cochinillo. The dish is served with a traditional seafood and fish soup and roasted octopus with seasoned potatoes and crisp pimenton. It's priced at $200 per group. For more information, call 786-443-7129.
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