IN CENTRAL SPAIN, SUCKLING PIG IS KING. PEOPLE WILL DRIVE SEVERAL HOURS FROM THEIR TOWN OR CITY INTO THE COUNTRY TO THEIR FAVOURITE ASADOR OR ROAST HOUSE. SOME ARE INTIMATE LITTLE ROOMS; OTHERS LOOK LIKE TRUCK-STOP DINERS WITH A CHIMNEY; SOME ARE GREAT 300-SEATER RESTAURANTS. SOME DINERS COME FOR THE STEAK, OTHERS THE LAMB, BUT MOST COME FOR THE PIG. LITTLE PIGLETS ONLY A FEW KILOGRAMS IN WEIGHT ARE SPLAYED WITH THEIR LEGS OUT AND COOKED WHOLE IN LARGE TERRACOTTA CAZUELAS. NOTHING IS ADDED EXCEPT SALT. THE SKIN IS PAPER THIN AND TOFFEE BRITTLE. THE FLESH IS SO MOIST, AND PEELS OFF AT THE TOUCH OF A FORK. IT CAN BE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO GET PIGS SO SMALL OUTSIDE SPAIN, BUT YOU CAN GET SLIGHTLY LARGER AND OLDER PIGLETS FROM BUTCHERS AT THE MARKETS.
Using a hacksaw or cleaver, cut the head off the pig, then cut the pig in half lengthways by cutting down the spine. Cut the pig into hindquarter, forequarter, rump and rib portions. Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the thigh bone from the hindquarter and the shoulder bone from the shoulder by running the tip of the knife along the bone and cutting it away from the flesh. You may need to twist the thigh bone away from the leg bone to remove it. This takes some work and some time, and some may find it easier to ask their butcher to do this.
The next step helps ensure the skin becomes crisp during cooking. Pour the vinegar into a large flameproof baking tray, add the bay leaves, garlic cloves, half the thyme and
Scatter the carrot, onion, halved garlic bulb and the remaining thyme in a large roasting tin. Spread the meat pieces evenly across the tin. Sprinkle both sides with sea salt, then turn the pieces skin side up and leave to stand for 30 minutes to allow the skin to dry.
Alternatively you can cook the meat in a wood-fired oven. Wait until the heat has died down to under 220°C (425°F/Gas 7), or the intense heat will burn the skin before it cooks.
Remove the meat from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes. Discard the vegetable base, then carve the meat into serving portions using a very sharp knife.
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