Warning: this post contains images of whole pig
"I don't suppose it's a good idea to name her" I say surveying the 7 kilo piglet on the tray. I'm talking to George Diamond who is the Group Executive Chef for the Keystone Group's restaurants including Bungalow 8 where tomorrow we are to have a porcine feast with eight of my friends.
"We can call her Miss Piggy" he says smiling.
"Done!" I say.
Miss Piggy is why I'm standing in the kitchen, chef's jacket on and surveying a pig the day before my most pork loving friends and I are going to gather at Bungalow 8. We will have a pork fest with a Peking style suckling pig with trimmings like Asian coleslaw, steamed buns, roti, baked mantou buns, hoi sin and plum sauce and an addictive chilli caramel. It is Bungalow 8's new strike for the food lover.
Previously known for more bar food and the ubiquitous all you can mussels, pies and fish and chips, they've now revamped the menu to try and lure more food lovers that want something beyond deep fried bar food. George's background is fine dining so he uses his skills to have arrived at a menu that will not alienate the regulars yet gives more balance and the list of salads I note sound particularly good. The new style of food here is now more share style. David Gray ex Manly Pavilion and Atlantic has been tasked with working with George on the food as well as the service.
Started only three weeks ago the suckling pig is their new signature dish and even though it is new in concept they sell about seven pigs a week. In keeping with the new Tiki and Asian theme it is served Peking Style. Do you know how Peking Duck has a lovely crisp skin on it and tender meat underneath and is served with pancakes and sauces? Well with careful preparation this suckling pig also has a crispy skin flavoured with Asian flavours like soy and five spice and is served with buns that you assemble yourself filling it with whatever you fancy from the platter. The suckling pigs need to be ordered 48 hours in advance, cost $490 and are designed to feed 8 people.
They use Macleay Valley pigs which are free range and organic pigs and each weighs about seven kilos. As George points out, they're all female as female pigs are better to eat (males have a distinct hormonal smell to them). And I'm about to learn how to make a suckling pig! And pork enthusiasts, George has been kind enough to share the recipe with us should you care to knock the socks off your family at Christmas! ;) You will need a larger 900mm oven for this but do check that your pig will fit.
Our lunch was scheduled for a Sunday so the day before in the afternoon I arrived at Bungalow 8 to do the first part of the pig preparation. This is the key to the success of the pig and the glassy, crunchy crackling. George has already trussed and broken the backbone of the pig for presentation so that the legs can sit below the body. He then uses a blowtorch to singe off any hairs on the pig and then uses a dry rub consisting of salt and five spice mixture and to draw out the moisture from the pig as you want the pig to be as dry as possible. Next he rubs the dry rub all over the outside and inside of the pig. Take care around the ears as they are delicate and can fall off. Leave this salt rub to infuse for two hours by which time some liquid will have pooled under the pig as the salt draws it out.
After two hours, taking a few ladlefuls of boiling water, wash off the dry rub from the outside of the pig (you don't need to wash the inside) and then take some paper towels and dry the pig. The hot water shocks the skin and readies it for you to apply the homemade marinade of soy sauce, malt sugar and water to the pig and air dry it uncovered next to a fan in the fridge to dry the skin. You will end up applying the marinade three times to pig, air drying it for two hours between each application so that the pig is marinated for a total of six hours (and this is why you need to pre order it).
The next day I arrive just over two hours before when we are to eat lunch. The pig has been sitting by the fan drying overnight and the skin feels firm, like leather. George is pleased with the way it has come up and the colour on the pig is a light golden colour. Now we are ready to prepare the pig for the oven and that is simple, just covering the tail and ears gently with foil to prevent them from overcooking. George does one ear while I do the other.
And into the oven it goes at 190C for 1 hour and forty five minutes. And after the first half hour head chef Brett notices that the foil on the ear that I covered has come off (arrgh I would so be fired!) but George actually likes the look of the ears up and says that he will do that from now on! Don't you love chefs that don't yell at you and find rainbows instead or rain? ;) George also takes the chance to remove the string that trussed the pig as it is no longer needed.
Our next course is to prepare the Asian slaw which is made using wombok (Chinese cabbage), carrot, bean sprouts, spring onion and fresh shiitake mushrooms. It can be prepped ahead of time but needs to be dressed at the last minute just before serving. The dressing is made up of fish sauce, rice vinegar and sugar and is a fresh, piquant dressing rather than a creamy dressing. We chiffonade all of the vegetables and toss them and have the dressing ready for when we will need it.
The next step is to brush the mantou buns with eggwash. They buy these buns from a Chinese bakery and we just heat them in the oven with the pork about 10 minutes before we want to serve the pig. The roti is fried on an oiled grill just before serving and each roti round is sliced in half and then folded over ready for filling. The steamed buns that they make here and put in the steam oven around this time too.
The pig is done! We take it out of the oven to rest as the skin is crispy crunchy but it will soften when it is out of the oven. When you want to eat it, you just return it to the oven for 15 minutes to crisp the skin up to a glass crackling state. We start preparing the board while our friends arrive. The boards are custom made for Bungalow 8 and have a recess around the edge to catch any drips. We line the board with banana leaves and pick the ferns. Here they use a combination of ming, joey and leather ferns to decorate the pig. The pig has gone back into the oven for the final crisping and we dress the coleslaw.
The three sauces are ready in bowls and the chilli caramel sauce (which is amazing and they go through 20 litres of this a week!) comes in a little pouring vessel. The pig is ready and we give Miss Piggy a brush of sesame oil to make her glisten and we pile the buns and ferns around her and George brings her out (I'm definitely not game to lift her!). And like Miss Piggy of The Muppets, she is a show stopper. People turn and come up to take photos of her. A girl says "My dad asked me to take a photo of it".
George explains the process of the pig and starts breaking down the pig for us. This is something usually done in the kitchen but I was curious to see how it was done. He starts by cutting down the backbone where we hear the crispy shell crack under the knife and removed the skin from the meat. And then slices along the sides of the rib cage. And the prized cuts according to George and the other chefs in the kitchen? Why the cheek or jowl and the ear!
While George is breaking down the pig we try the BBQ pork steamed buns which are filled with12 hour cooked pork belly, shiitake slaw, plum sauce and crunchy pork crackling enclosed on one of those soft steamed buns. I particularly like the crackling contrast in texture and it whets our appetite for the main event, the suckling pig.
We all dig in, the smell of the pig is heavenly and I claim one cheek/jowl and ear. The ear is deliciously crispy and you can hear the crunch in your ears with every bite. The cheek and jowl are sublimely soft, like the cheeks of a fish it's tender and juicy and I savour every mouth watering bite. We stuff the buns with pork and skin, coleslaw and drizzle it with sauce.
There's plenty for everyone and even vegetarian Amaya gets well taken care of with some vegetarian dishes including samosas and a creamy cauliflower & chickpea jungle curry with coconut chutney and crispy onion bhaji and some vegetable and chestnut dumplings with a ginger soy (fabulous!).
Halfway through they reheat the pork and buns for us. Mr NQN takes the head and finishes the cheeks. Try as we might and with five strapping males on our table, we couldn't finish it all although I must say that an impressive attempt was made by my swooning pork loving friends.
And because you need an even sweeter ending, there is dessert too! We start with the tropical, lightly scorched pineapple flavoured with star anise and served with coconut ice-cream. The coconut ice cream gives the sweet, lightly tangy pineapple a nice creaminess and there are little pieces of shredded coconut in it. It's finished off with some passionfruit gel which adds tanginess and shredded, toasted coconut.
The caramelised lime tart had a bruleed top which cracked appealingly. The tart had a tangy creaminess from the cream, eggs and strong lime and the vanilla cream was aromatic with vanilla from a generous serve of Tahitian vanilla beans.
The banana ice cream brownie sandwich is two thin moist brownie layers (more cake than brownie) on top and bottom sandwiching a real banana ice cream, smooth and strong in banana. It's served with a diced mango salad, pieces of nut brittle and a passionfruit gel that really enhances the ice cream sandwich.
Even though the heavens had opened up and deposited some of the rain that Sydney has been experiencing so much of lately, everyone sits tight through the downpour. There is after all, delicious pig to eat and we have our priorities.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever tried suckling pig? And what are you going to make this Christmas?
Crispy Peking Style Suckling Pig
1 x 6kg Whole Suckling Pig
16 x Steamed Buns steamed for 5 minutes
16 x Roti Bread warmed on the grill
16 x Cantonese Golden Bread Buns
8 x portions Asian Slaw
100ml x Plum Sauce
100ml x Hoi Sin Sauce
1/10th Bunch x Ming Fern
1/10th Bunch x Joey Fern
1/10th Bunch x Leather Fern
100gm Banana Leaf
100ml x Citrus Caramel (recipe below)
Asian Slaw 8 portions
300gm x Wombok sliced finely
200gm Carrot Julienne
100 gm Bean Sprouts
1/5 bunch Spring onions finely sliced diagonally
¼ Bunch Large Shiso Leaves
1 x Portion Dressing
Dressing for Slaw
120ml Fish Sauce
120 ml Rice Vinegar
1 ½ Tspn Sugar
**Peking Style Marinade **
30gm 1 tablespoon) salt
7 ml (1 tablespoon) five-spice powder
5 ml (1 teaspoon) malt sugar
15 ml (1 tablespoon) soy sauce
30 ml (2 tablespoons) water
Step 1 - Mix the salt with the five-spice powder. Rub the mixture thoroughly over the suckling pig, both inside and out, and leave to season for 2 hours.
Step 2 - Pour a large kettleful of boiling water over the skin and the whole length of the carcass, and use another kettleful to rinse out the cavity. Wipe and dry thoroughly with a dry cloth or absorbent paper.
Step 3 - Mix the malt sugar with the soy sauce and water. Rub the mixture evenly over the cooled and dried skin of the pig. Do these three times and after each application allows the pig to dry in the cool room, this will take 6 hours.
Step 4 - Gently cover the ears and the tail with foil. Put the suckling pig on a wire rack into a preheated oven at 190°C for 45 minutes. Roast the pig for an hour and thirty minutes. Place a roasting pan half full of water at the bottom of the oven to catch the drips.
Step 5 - When Pig is cooked remove from oven and allow to rest. Place the pig back in the oven for 15 minutes when required to crisp up the skin again.
Step 6 - To serve, place the Roasted Pig on a large wooden cutting board lined with Banana Leaf with the Steamed Buns, Roti Bread, Asian Slaw, Chilli Caramel and Dipping Sauces. Line the board with Ferns. Brush some Sesame oil on the Whole pig to shine it up.
250 gm Palm Sugar
Juice and zest of One Lime
100 ml Fish Sauce
20 ml Mandarin Juice
10 gm Fresh Chilli sliced finely
Heat the palm sugar until caramelized, add the zest and fish sauce, simmer for 5 minutes
and add the lime & mandarin juices and sliced chilli and cook for another 2 minutes.
Taste for balance.