Saturday, January 31, 2015

Roasting a Pig

I'm not sure that the outdoor roasting of a pig at Christmas is a Caribbean or Hispanic or island tradition.  I have known Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos to roast pigs at Christmas.  Above is a pig roasted by my friend Augie Serrano.  Augie tells me that the tradition is also in Hawaii.

I met Augie while he was stationed in Spring Branch with the US Army.  After 22 years, SFC Serrano retired and returned to his home in Ponce, Florida where he hooked up with his high-school sweetheart, Denise.  There they married five years ago and are living happily ever after in Orlando.

Here is how Augie cooks a pig.  Please note that if you have not done this before, get help from someone who has.  Otherwise, you may have a lot of guests showing up for uncooked pork.

Preparing the Pig

This is a 50 pound pig.  Augie preseasons this critter with plenty of salt, black pepper, garlic, and oregano.  

Building the Fire

Augie cooks with oak.  He uses oak branches and cardboard to start the fire.   During the cooking process, he uses one large bag of charcoals to keep the fire alive and adds oak logs as needed.

Skewering the Pig:

Because pigs don't come in standard sizes and shapes, skewering is a trial and error process.  In this case, Augie had to break the jaw of the pig to make the skewering work.

The pig is stuffed with onions and lemon grass before being stitched up.  Puerto Ricans, according to Augie, traditionally do not stuff their pigs prior to roasting.  Stuffing the pig with onions and lemon grass is a Filipino technique to keep the insides moist.  His Filipino friend Joe Bantillo helped him with the preparations and stitched up the pig.

Cooking the Pig:

The skewer allows the pig to be turned periodically over the hot coals to spread the heat and thoroughly cook the meat.  The heat is kept high in the font and rear of the pig to ensure that the shoulders and buts get cooked on the inside as well.  At the end, Augie piled the charcoal in the middles to crisp the skin.  This pig took a little over four hours to cook.  But to do it that fast, you have to have good heat control and keep the skewer rotating over the fire.

Carving the Pig:

The pig gets carved up in large pieces if serving from the table, smaller pieces if serving from a plate.      I prefer for the pig to be served from the carving table allowing the guests to carve whatever part they prefer.

You haven't lived until you have had fire-roasted whole pig.  Experienced roasters like Augie get the meat cooked, but not dry, and the skin crisp.  Look how crisp the skin and how juicy the pork look in the photo below.  Now that's good eating.  Thanks, Augie for sharing the process with us.

Look how perfectly cooked the pork is.  That's all in the fire control and keeping the pig rotating.

Don't read what follows if you are squeamish about your food.  It's a recipe for pork brains.

At a Cuban pig roast a year ago, the cooked tapped into the skull to taste the brain.  He asked me if I wanted a taste and I quickly declined, then changed my mind.  It was quite tasty for someone with a liberal pallet.  Don't recommend it for the squeamish, but the squeamish won't try it anyway.  After tasting the brain, I recommend making a pate out of it.  Start by cooking sautéing  finely chopped garlic and onions in butter.  Add the brains and season with salt and white pepper.  Simmer and add cheap brandy.  Continue to simmer until the liquid cooks away.  What hopefully is left is a tasty paste that can be refrigerated and served as a pate" afterwards.

WARNING:  Make sure with your meat market people that the brains are safe.  Mad cow disease is a problem just about worldwide, and the disease is not destroyed during the cooking process.

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