The ritual of splitting a pig without a knife
If you go to Segovia (Castilla y León) and go into one of the many recommendable restaurants and hear a plate smashing on the floor, don’t worry. Contrary to what you might think, the noise is synonymous with the fact that you have just found excellent service.
In Segovia, when you sit at the table, the ritual is almost as important as the raw material. One cannot and must not visit the city famed for its Roman aqueduct without going to have one of its famous ‘cochinillos’, the name given to the suckling pig, that is, an animal that has only fed on its mother’s milk and is no more than three weeks old. In the splitting ceremony, in addition to the spectator/customer, there is an earthenware dish with the meal and a cook armed with a plate. With a surgeon’s precision, the cook will slice the cochinillo with a plate, before smashing the plate on the floor. The sound is usually accompanied by the flashes of the cameras immortalising the moment.
The curious thing is that this form of serving cochinillo came out by double chance. The famous restaurateur Cándido López brought it into fashion in the 1930s. Concerned with pleasing his customers and having forgotten his knife, he decided to cut the cochinillo with the edge of a plate to show the softness and delicacy of the food. The customers applauded and the anecdote became tradition. When this form of cutting had already become very popular, on one occasion the plate slipped away from Cándido and shattered on the floor. The customers applauded thinking that it was all part of the ceremony. Ever since there has not been any proud restaurateur who has not imitated the master.
But this is only the final part. First you have to prepare the cochinillo which is only dressed in lard, water, salt and roasted in a wood oven. If the animal is toasted and crisp on the outside (in Cándido’s words, “when we tap the skin with our knuckles and it sounds like a drum skin”) and very tender on the inside, it has been cooked correctly. The city of Segovia has not taken long to erect a statue to such a singular citizen, who turned the city into a leading gastronomic centre in the region of Castilla y León. The Monument to Cándido, Mesonero Mayor del Reino de Segovia, is on the crossroads between calle Ezequiel González and calle Sancti Espíritu and naturally the restaurateur has been immortalised just when he is about to slice four pigs.
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