Cochon de lait is the art of cooking a pig before an open hardwood fire. Although the term cochon de lait is French, the origin of this Louisiana social event is obscure. It is know that the custom began at least a century ago and has since been popular throughout Cajun country. It is possible that the Germans who settled in St. James Parish in 1690 were the first to introduce the cochon de lait. These settlers brought pigs to the area and were skilled butchers. Local legend, however, tells that veterans of Napoleon's army brought the traditional preparation of cochon de lait to Louisiana in the early 1800s. Many of these soldiers settled in a town in Avoylles Parish they named Manusra in honor of the site of their last major campaign. Since then, Mansura, LA has been designated by the Louisiana legislature as "La Capital du Cochon de Lait."
Normally, families cooked pigs in cochon de lait style as the centerpiece for holiday gatherings. The pig, usually weighing less than 30 pounds, was sometimes cooked hanging from the fireplace in the kitchen. The most common method was to cook the pig outdoors over a pecan wood and sugarcane fire. The basic process of the cochon de lait has remained the same over the years. Today, much larger pigs are cooked to feed groups of people. Pigs up to 200 pounds are regarded as excellent for open-fire cooking.
When preparing a cochon de lait, season the pig well inside and out with salt, cracked black pepper, and granulated garlic. Inject the front and rear hams and tenderloin with an infused liquid made with 2 cups melted butter, 1 cup white wine, 3/4 cup Louisiana hot sauce and 1/2 cup granulated garlic. Using a meat saw, cut through the backbone at the neck and tail and lay the pig open flat. Wrap the pig in wire mesh that has been washed and cleaned thoroughly and then secure it with wire to hold it in proper form during the long cooking process. The pig should then be slowly rotated in front of a hardwood fire built 3 to 4 feet away from the pig. The fire, constantly maintained, cooks a 50-pound pig in 6 hours. Estimate 1 hour of cooking time for every 10 pounds, but keep in mind that not all pigs will cook at the same rate. After each hour of cooking, flip the pig head side down to ensure even cooking.
This recipe was provided by a chef, restaurant or culinary professional. It has not been tested for home use.
Recipe courtesy of Chef John Folse