I suppose I should warn everybody (even though the title of today’s national food holiday pretty much gives it away)…this is not a vegan-friendly holiday. It’s also not a holiday that’s friendly towards people who like to goo and gush over baby piglets being utterly adorable in any way. Because suckling pig? Is basically those little porkers, roasting on a spit. :-\ (All vegans should head back to yesterday’s post with some delicious tempeh sandwiches right about now…) Suckling pigs are piglets that are still at the age when they’re dependent on their mothers–literally still “suckling”–and are usually cooked whole for presentation. There’s a huge history of roasting whole suckling pigs all around the world, from ancient Greece and Rome to China and the Philippines. And, as sketchy as slaughtering and roasting a piglet may be, roast suckling pig is delicious. The meat is tender and juicy, while the roasting action–especially if it’s on a spit over an open fire–makes for crispy, flavorful skin. And, after researching suckling pig in New York, I can tell you that, with the amount of restaurants that are now serving this dish around the city, it’s not going away any time soon.
While you won’t find many restaurants in New York willing to serve you an entire roast suckling pig, there are plenty that offer great dishes involving the different cuts from the pig, as well as the skin. And what better place to get suckling pig than a restaurant that’s literally named after the dish? Maialino translates to “little pig” in Italian, and it stands both for the restaurant’s signature dish as well as superstar chef Danny Meyer’s childhood nickname during his summers spent in Italy. The restaurant definitely lives up to its name with two dishes spotlighting the little pig: a fettucine bolognese with suckling pig ragu for a pasta primi and the behemoth, the Maialino al Forno, which is the pork shoulder and section of the rib cage, and can feed 2-4 people. The al Forno is off-the-charts expensive and must be ordered beforehand for availability, but the critics and patrons agree that it’s worth the wait and expense. Slow-roasted for hours and then blasted with heat to crisp the skin, the suckling pig is just about as good as you’re gonna find it without hopping on a plane straight to Italy yourself. If you’re alone for the night, the meaty ragu will certainly fill your appetite for today; but gather a bunch of your compatriots in carnivora and shell out the bucks for an outstanding suckling pig experience. (And if you’re wondering if all the rest of the animal pieces go to waste, they do not: the head is stewed to make a terrine and the feet are turned into a salad. Waste not, want not!)
2 Lexington Ave (between 22nd St & N Gramercy Park)
“We slow roast it at a very low temperature for about five to seven hours, until the meat gets really soft and the skin slowly starts to brown. Then we chop it into sections and take each section to order, and blast it in a hot oven to crisp the skin. It’s rubbed with rosemary, cracked fennel, and salt and pepper. Very simple.”–The Village Voice
“Named for its signature dish—suckling pig—the perpetually packed restaurant inside the Gramercy Park Hotel has benefited from New York diners’ growing interest in all things Roman in the last couple years. But that’s not to say that Maialino can’t stand on its own. The suckling pig is worth every penny (and it’s not cheap) for the taste of the crispy skin that gives way to juicy pork.”–Fodors
“There’s an open-air bread station at one end, a cheese and meat stand at the other, both lorded over by skillful, white-suited staff. But the main action takes place in the rear dining room where the restaurant’s namesake pork is the draw. From Parma-fresh prosciutto to salami and rich mortadella from Tuscany, the salumi platters are heavy with sliced swine. So are the pasta dishes. Malfatti al Maialino comprises thick pasta ribbons doused with cream, spiked with arugula and studded with chunks of buttery suckling pig thigh. Paccheri (pasta tubes) are tossed with black pepper and bits of guanciale, or cured pork jowl. And then comes the house speciality — Maialino al Forno, an entire suckling pig plated amid its own pepper-dusted crackling.”–Time Magazine
“My dinner companions and I ordered a couple of pastas because we had heard that the restaurant excelled at them, a few appetizers, and the Maialino, the namesake of the restaurant. I have to say that the the Maialino, the suckling piglet, was by far my favorite part. Actually it was the fatty crispy skin of the Maialino that was so finger-lickin’ good.”–Food Comas
“Sliced into four massive strips, copious amounts of succulent suckling pig hide deceptively beneath sinful sheets of crisp pork skin so rich with melt-in-your-mouth fat they must be illegal in certain States. A bed of potatoes rests in the plate juices and are integral, particularly the crispier pieces, at balancing the more succulent bites or pork. The best bites featured the last few pieces of tender pork which had fully soaked in the salty, rosemary flavored juices. Focus on the crackling first. It’s delicate and brittle when it first arrives, deceptively masking thick ribbons of fat just below its sparkling surface. As the crackling cools it starts solidifying and becomes tougher to chew.”–NYC Food Guy
“As somewhat of a prelude of what was to come next, a server proudly displayed the mouthwatering Maialino al Forno to the table before returning to the kitchen where it was plated. Arriving atop a bed of golden Rosemary Potatoes, the maialino, or Roasted Suckling Pig came pre-cut for our convenience. Few words can accurately capture my admiration towards a properly cooked suckling pig with its succulent meat and crispy-crackly skin, words escaping me, leaving me virtually speechless. Like an island castaway who stumbled upon food, I inhaled the juicy meat kissed with the gentle flavor of rosemary and tore into the crunchy skin with reckless abandon.”–Law & Food
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Our waiter was one of the most knowledgeable and well spoken I’ve ever had and he was like 25 years old. Don’t remember his name but he had a tattoo on one forearm, like a single word or phrase, I think. Anyway–amazing amazing roast suckling pig. They take the skin off and deep fry it and then put it back on the meat before serving. Potatoes and rosemary, so good… My mouth waters at the memory. Also had fried sweetbreads to start–wrapped in prosciutto–with a little balsamic, some of the best bites I’ve ever had. Really good martini’s too. One of the best restaurant I’ve ever been to, ever.”–Robert D.
“Um, this may be one of the BEST meals I’ve had in my NY life. After reading a few reviews, my friend and I decided on the suckling pig, which was amazingly delicious. So crunchy and moist, it really is worth the $85 price tag. The roasted potatoes that garnish said pork are dripping in fat, but perfectly roasted. Yum!”–Sara S.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!