Above: a traditional “spiedo bresciano” must be roasted slowly for a minimum of four hours (image via M@rcello;-)’s Flickr, Creative Commons).
Called spet in Franciacrota dialect (akin to the English spit), the spiedo bresciano or Brescian rotisserie is a classic specialty of Brescia province, where Franciacorta is located. A king among Brescian dishes, the spiedo bresciano has developed a cult following over the centuries.
Its important role in Brescian culture stretches back to the way that hunting was regulated on lands and reserves owned by Lombard aristocrats. Villagers were not allowed to hunt large game like deer, roebuck, or boar, for example. But land owners had little regard for small game and fowl that could be hunted using nets, bow and arrow, or various traps — techniques that could be implemented with scarce resources.
With this “bounty,” villagers had access to important animal-based protein in their diet, which was otherwise based on flour dumplings, polenta, and other soups. Originally, the spiedo was prepared exclusively with small fowl and cooking times were long. By turning the spit at regular intervals, the hunters could cook the small birds — robins and finches — that they had killed. Cooking times were determined by the angle of the fire and the way the fowl were butchered.
Above: the “spiedo bresciano” plated (image via Marco Lazzaroni’s Flickr, Creative Commons). Note the potato slices.
Today, the DE.CO. (the denominazione comunale or official local designation requires that the dish be comprised of birds, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and/or pork loin that has been cooked on a spit — called a ranfia locally — that has been turned over low heat for many hours. The preparation is known as spiedutura and it consists in alternating the various meats (the prese) in a uniform manner on the skewer.
Usually, the first ingredient to be skewered is a potato slice. Sage leaves are arranged between each ingredient and inside the pieces of meat. Fatty meat is arranged close to the fowl in order to keep the birds soft and to keep them from becoming dry during the cooking process. The ingredients are never squeezed or pressed on one another. They are simply arranged on the skewer in a uniform manner in order to ensure that they cook evenly.
Above: the “Spiedo Bresciano Atlas” (image via Made in Brescia).
Traditionally, the meats are cooked very slowly, for at least four hours. This guarantees that they will be tender but fully cooked. Specially built, broad ovens are used to cook this dish. They consist of a mounted rotating drum, with a source of heat below and a hood with holes above that extends over the entire length of the oven.
Wood can be used to fire the oven, including olive wood or grape vines. Charcoal can also be used. Although electric-fired rotisserie ovens do exist, they are typically considered an inferior cooking method with respect to flame-fired rotisserie.
During cooking, the skewers are basted and dressed with a mixture of rendered butter and lard and salt that is reserved in a tub beneath the oven. The mixture is distributed constantly on the hood above so that it can drip evenly on the roasting meat below.
Source: Slow Food (local chapter) Oglio, Franciacorta, Lago d’Iseo (not available online). Translation by Barone Pizzini blogmaster Jeremy Parzen.