The Chinese celebrate everything with food. From our tiny Brooklyn kitchen, my mom could turn out an authentic 10 course Chinese feast, singlehandedly, complete with shark’s fin soup and roasted duck glazed in a sweet and sour sauce — the original “duck sauce” which is nothing like the little orange packets they throw in with the fortune cookies or serve up with crispy noodles.
Every so often we’d gather at a Chinese restaurant, which is all about eating and talking, and talking while eating. The room is always red, (the Chinese color for happiness and good fortune), an expansive open space, dotted with large round tables with seating for ten. The din of Chinese chatter is deafening, partly because of the tables crammed too closely together and partly because people are shouting to be heard.
Eating Chinese style is a communal affair. Platters of steaming hot food make their rounds on a giant lazy Susan, everyone taking turns selecting a morsel or two from whatever dish is in front of them. If you have an older relative sitting next to you, they might choose the best pieces and put it in your bowl. This is an honor, not an invasion of your personal space. If the relative is very, very old you might do the honors. Everyone encourages others to eat more. No dieting allowed.
Like the eating, the ordering of the food is a part hierarchy, part favor. The waiter confers with the one he’s identified as being at the top of the food chain, so to speak. He’s usually the one footing the bill and is almost always a “he.” The waiter hands him a “menu” which is a page written in Chinese. If you can’t read Chinese, you’re pretty much out of luck. This is the secret menu given only to authentic Chinese people who don’t ask for ice water or forks. This menu is the real deal, no goopy brown sauces and nothing you would find on a Chinese take out menu.
A typical Chinese banquet includes roast suckling pig, cooked on a spit until the skin is bubbled and crispy. For a banquet it’s splayed out on the platter, head and all, looking like something that would make the big bad wolf proud. Each bite sized chunk of meat has its own layer of savory, crispy skin. It’s traditionally served alongside a tiny dipping bowl of sugar. Yes. The granules of sugar clinging to the meat provide that sweet savory combo that some people find irresistible.
This recipe, which is really more of a technique than “recipe,” delivers the closest thing to roast suckling pig without a spit. In fact, if you have access to, and don’t mind cooking up, a little piglet, I’m guessing you’d be able to achieve a fairly good approximation of a banquet worthy pig. If you are fortunate to have a decently stocked Asian supermarket or a good butcher, you might also be able to try this recipe with pork belly (the meat used for bacon) for a really succulent delicacy.
SUCCULENT, SLOW ROASTED PORK SHOULDER WITH CRISPY, CRACKLING SKIN
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Season the roast liberally with salt and pepper.
Place roast on a rack over a pan (I use a large roasting pan)
Roast at 250 degrees until fork tender. (About 8 hours for an 8lb roast).
Remove from the oven and tent while you heat the oven to 500 degrees.
Return roast to the oven, rotating every 5 minutes or so, until skin is blistered and crispy.
Remove from the oven.
Tent again for 15 minutes before slicing.
I have to give credit to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats. You can see the detailed recipe here.