I am a little obsessed with good crackling and crisp skin generally. One of the best things that I have ever eaten might surprise you. It was in Barbados, I had asked the staff at my hotel what their favourite thing to eat was and they had replied, oh you wouldn’t like it. I knew that I probably would and so I pressed on. They laughed and refused to divulge. They had done with guests before who returned horrified and full of moans. To my surprise and delight eventually they gave in and replied, barbecue pig tails. Say what?! I have never had a pig tail, save slippery in a soup in Antigua (the flavour was great, the texture a bit more challenging for me). I had never had pig tail off the barbecue.
BBQ Pig Tail in Barbados
I asked where I could find them and they told me where to get the best ones. A guy at the side of the road, and he is usually here or there. He is so busy there is usually a traffic jam, that is how you know he is cooking that day. I went immediately and was so disappointed to discover that this was his one day off.
Instead I headed to Oistins, a popular place for fried fish for locals and tourists alike. I was still keen to try pig tail, but there was no one cooking it. Fish, fish, fish, lots of lovely fish, but I wanted me a pig tail. Down a side alley I spied a young woman over with a very simple small grill. I couldn’t quite see what was on her grill but it didn’t look like fish. I crept down and asked her, and she said she was cooking pig tail.
Joy! I ordered one and took a bit. Heaven! Succulent meat enclosed in crisp skin, all doused in a very good barbecue sauce (which was a secret recipe of course). It cost just $2. I vowed to make it when I got home, but I never did. (I will, I promise, we all need some pig tail).
The Best Porchetta Sandwich in Rome
Another favourite bite is porchetta. Best porchetta made with great care. An Italian dish although there are versions elsewhere from other countries that love the pig as much as they (and we do). It originally hails from Aricci near Rome, but has spread throughout Italy now. It is glorious in a sandwich, my favourite so far from Panificio Bonci in Rome, who sources porchetta from Bernebei in Marino, half an hour from Rome (read all about Bernebei on Elizabeth Minchilli’s blog about her day trip there, swoon!) in a simple pizza bianca sandwich, light thin crisp bread with moist crisp aromatic porchetta enclosed within. The sandwich is cut to order with pizza scissors from an enormous section. I always bring some home, this sandwich is one of those eye rolling perfect bites.
Overnight Roast Wild Garlic Porchetta
I have made porchetta at home several times too, including this wild garlic slow roast overnight porchetta earlier this year. I often thought about mini ones, what might they be like. I was reminded of this when I had suckling pig belly in a restaurant recently. It is easy to source suckling pig, but I had no need for a whole one, I just wanted its lovely delicious tender tum. I sourced the suckling pig belly eventually at Fine Food Specialists, not too badly priced at £24.95 for 2kg although postage is a little steep (and I understand why), and probably better if you are ordering more.
This took a little while to get right, but once I did, I was rewarded with gorgeous little porchettas, like sausage rolls but instead of pastry heavenly crackling, and instead of sausage tender suckling pig belly sharpened by the sour cranberry sweetened a little with savoury maple, some rosemary and some orange. I put a fine layer of this mix on the pork belly flesh before rolling it and tightening it with string.
Grilling Suckling Pig Porchetta on the Big Green Egg
I cooked these on my Big Green Egg, desiring the smoky flavour and moist meat. I am addicted to cooking on it, in truth. I worked with Big Green Egg on a recipe partnership earlier this year, and I have been using it regularly since. Results are excellent generally as the Egg keeps moisture in and had limited air flow. It is really like a compact wood fired oven. This has disadvantages for crackling as good crisp crackling requires air, and hates moisture. So, to get perfect mini porchettas you need to dry the suckling pork belly in the fridge for at least a day and night, preferably too. A sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda works wonders for crackling, and cooking low and slow before firing it up for the finish results in a perfect porchetta skin.
These are the perfect treat. They are a little fiddly but they are wonderful and worth the effort. I would suggest doing a trial batch first, as I did, and then with confidence cook the rest. With 2kg of belly (and time) you should get at least 10 mini porchettas (mine averaged 150g each before adding the cranberry). You can never have too many, they are the ultimate treat!
Other Big Green Egg recipes
Suckling Pig Stories
If you don't have a BIg Green Egg you can make these in the oven by following the same advice. You won't get the smokiness but they will still be great. I know 3 days sounds like a lot but it just ensures that you have perfect crisp skin. Most of that 3 days, the pork is just sitting in the fridge drying out.
- 2kg suckling pork belly
- light oil e.g. groundnut or rapeseed
- sea salt
- 200g fresh cranberries
- 1 large orange, shaved rind and juice
- 2 sprigs rosemary, needles removed and finely chopped
- 50ml maple syrup
Prepare your pork belly by scoring the flesh with a very sharp knife, to the fat but not the skin, and drying it (e.g. kitchen roll). Leave uncovered overnight in the fridge.
Prepare your cranberries by putting in a pan with the orange juice, zest and rosemary. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat. Cook until the cranberries are soft (you may want to double quantities to serve some as a relish). Add the maple syrup and stir through. Allow to cool.
Take the belly out of the fridge. Cut into rectangular portions that will roll tightly together (roughly 6 inches wide and twice as long - this depends on your belly and the age of your pig - it is not as complicated as it sounds). Don't stress if the first couple don't work out, you still have fabulous pork belly that you can roast and serve on skewers with some of the cranberry, orange and rosemary as a dip. Mush the cranberries with the back of a spoon and spread a thin layer on each piece of belly, flesh side. Tie in a round with the string, pulling tightly. Wipe the skin until dry and leave uncovered overnight in the fridge again.
Take the belly out of the fridge an hour before you plan to cook it. Wipe any moisture off and sprinkle a little bicarbonate of soda on top. This helps the skin crisp and is a trick used for that lovely crisp Chinese pork belly. It works just as well here too. Just before putting it on your egg, rub some light oil like groundnut or rapeseed on the skin and flesh and season with sea salt.
Heat your egg to 150 deg C, indirect heat. When the pork is at about 55 deg C (approx 45 minutes, check the flesh for accuracy with a thermometer), jack the heat up to 200 - 220 deg C to crisp the skin. This will take 15 - 20 minutes.
Serve with the cranberries, orange and rosemary on the side. Remove the string with a scissors. Eat hot straight off the grill.