Monday, December 18, 2006

Porcine excess

So this is the article that started it all. I read it in the Washington Post over 2 years ago, and I was entranced by the idea of being able to roast a whole pig. Maybe it was because I knew Pam, the butcher at Brookville Market, and I thought she was an awesome professional--just like the kind of butchers I'd grown up with in Italy and in Japan who knew just about everything about meat, except she was a woman! Or maybe it's because my Japanese upbringing will out and although as a culture we're obsessed with food and plenty, most of us don't have the type of room to actually be able to roast a pig in its entirety--and that just really made it exotic for me (while those of you who grew up with pig roasts here in the US think nothing of it except that you have to get up at hte crack of dawn to do it.)

In any event it stayed with me for 30 months until Dennis's brother Dan asked me what could we do differently this Thanksgiving, and I blurted out, "cook a Cuban pig in a Chinese box." So Dan drove up a 60lb pig from Carrboro NC, and Jane was an amazingly good sport about it all in spite of being a vegetarian, and we set to work assembling the Chinese box, injecting the Mojo Criollo into the pig, and resisting the urge to open the box for 3 straight hours while the magic box did its pressure cooker imitation. (The metal lined box holds the pig and all the steam inside, while the heat is applied from the top of the box.) And sure enough, 4 hours later, we had a fuly roasted pig.

I don't know if other cooks feel this way, but I love the transformation that cooking involves. I also love the things that go into cooking--the rich smells, the textures, and the freshness of stuff--but I love the fact that in many ways cooking is like a perfect black box; inputs go in, outputs come out, and what happens in between is something that the cook needs to be able to visualize and imagine and predict. In my best cooking moments, I can feel and imagine the ingredients transforming under the heat or the pressure or the chemical reaction, and I know exactly when things have to be taken out of the oven or tastes have to be corrected. This wasn't quite there--we didn't fix the pig right in its little holder, and we forgot to add another batch of coals at 2hr 30min as the instructions did say, upon closer reading--but it was quite the tour de force anyway.

So two tips for other Caja China rookies:
  1. Coals need augmenting at 60mins, at 120 mins, and at 150 mins before you can open the oven at 180mins. We missed the 150 mins mark, and I noticed the external temperature of the coals had dropped by the time we opened the box at 180 mins. If we had remembered the 150 in fillip, I think the pig would have roasted in 3hr 30 mins as advertised. As it was we were done in 4hrs.
  2. The Caja China comes with 2 wire racks that you fix on the outside of the pig by way of 4 s-hooks, and the wire racks have little legs. In our haste we faced the legs into the pig instead of out, which made it harder to actually latch the s-hooks on, but more importantly, it meant the pig didn't sit above the metal floor of the box, so that parts of skin on the bottom got soggy rather than dried out, and didn't get perfectly crisp after it was turned to the heat source in the last 30 mins. Legs out.
Can't wait to try it again, though. Dan, I hope you're bottle feeding the next Thanksgiving piglet.

And in late breaking news (well, not so timely, but I just found it), here's the article that should cap this experience--the Piggy Confessional.


Anonymous said... has some great La Caja China Stuff. I have cooked 17 pigs on mine and 18 chickens ar once. Wow!! The chickens were great! Do a search on Meathenge for the lcc.

Jeff B Bannister said...

I just cooked a whole 20lb lamb yesterday. WOW it was great. I love this LCC.