We had a pig roast. It was great, but no one needs a review of someone else’s party, so I am just going to recite the lessons learned and three important recipes.
My pig roast started with another pig roast, years ago, at Rich and Janis Tester’s house. That’s when I first saw the “La Caja China,” which means Chinese box in Spanish speaking places. The Testers had one in their back yard. I was having wine, and visiting with people, kind of unaware, and then I saw Rich Tester rushing to his kitchen with a medium-sized perfectly roasted pig on a platter. “That box,” I thought.
La Caja China is a well insulated plywood box invented by a Cuban family to replace the way they roasted meats back home in Cuba. The pig is sandwiched between two grates, which makes it easy to turn (only turned once). Then a tray of hot coals is set on top of the pig. The pig roasted tends the coals for 4-6 hours. If all goes well, you do that turning thing at about hour 3, to crisp the skin. If all goes well.
If you are us, the pig will be done in 8 hours. We started with a very large pig, 130 pounds live weight. Our pig, raised lovingly in Essex, MA at Salt Marsh Farms, was 100 pounds minus the head and trotters (pig language for feet.)
If you live on or near Cape Ann, here’s another thing you need to know: Salt Marsh Farms is providing Cape Ann residents truly local livestock and poultry options – pork, lamb, and poultry raised in Essex. If you are longing for the chicken of your youth, chickens that taste not like marigold blossoms (did they ever taste like marigold blossoms?) but like chicken, find a Salt Marsh Farms chicken.
I am obsessed with them now, purchase them when ever I can, freeze them, even give them as gifts. They are not inexpensive, as chickens go, but this is no longer your everyday Tuesday night dinner; these are fine-dining chickens, chickens that will make chicken soup a 5 star option. These are chickens with which to make the perfect chicken sandwich: sliced breast meat, a little mayo, salt and pepper on white toast. These are meaty, naturally moist, and just full of chicken-y flavor chickens.
For more waxing about Salt Marsh Farms poultry, read Bo Abrams’ letter, reproduced at the bottom of this post, written the night after her first Salt Marsh Farms Chicken experience this summer. If only for the beautiful sentences, read this testimony.
Salt Marsh Farms owners Liz Jaeger and Edgar Foudray will be offering lamb, pork, and most importantly LOCAL TURKEYS for thankgsiving. Order now! You can email Liz and Edgar at email@example.com or call them at (617)-617-6171. They are often at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market. On Wednesdays they sell their goods to Alprilla Farm in Essex and Cedar Rock Farms in W. Gloucester.
Returning to pigs, Liz and Edgar raised our chunky pig. They were helpful every step of the way, and the results were many, many gorgeous, charred, sweet, roasted porky pounds of meat, pounds which just took longer than anticipated because our pig had enjoyed his own dinners so much.
More pig roast data: Danielle Glantz, of the pasta shop Pastaio via Corta, came to our house two days in advance. Glantz has had some Cuban Pig Roast experience. Contrary to all the online videos which recommend injecting the meat with various concoctions, Glantz studded the pig all over with about a pound of garlic cloves, rubbed it well with salt, and then made a paste of more garlic, bitter orange juice, and dried oregano. Who knows how this method compared to the injections? As people pulled at the warm roasted meat in the dark, no one was complaining.
Another lesson: Mojo. Know it. Make it. Repeat.
Garlic, lime juice, oregano, cumin, and olive oil, Mojo is the crowning glory to all thinks pork, as far as I can tell. I made a great batch of it, and, in the dark (remember our pig was 3 hours late!) I ladled it over the warm meat. A few spoonfuls of that tucked into a warm tortilla (Brian Knowles just kept toasting them over the gas flame in the kitchen) would make a vegan stray.
Yuca, a traditional Cuban Pig Roast accompaniment, was another revelation. Where has this starch been all my life? Apparently it has far more vitamin C than potatoes, and it is a great source of antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Yuca consumption is associated with healthy insulin and cholesterol levels. And, my is it good. Crispy, with far more toothsome character than a potato, our yuca was boiled, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roasted. We took them steaming from the oven, comforted them with spoonfuls of translucent onions, and – tada! – a healthy ladle of mojo. Just fantastic.
Cuban Sandwiches. When the La Caja China is degreased and tucked away for next year. When the yard is cleared of plastic cups and paper plates. When the refrigerator is bulging with roasted pork, have another party and make Cuban Sandwiches.
I happen to have had a loaf of homemade Portuguese Sweet Bread on my counter. To the state of Florida, which seems to have made the Cuban what it is, I say find yourselves a Portuguese bakery and remake your sandwich. I think the Portuguese Sweet Bread is all a Cuban roll wants to be and more: soft, sweet, tender sandwiching warm, salty, savory.
Pig Roast Lessons in summary:
- The Floridian Cubans know their pork; La Caja China works.
- Salt Marsh Farms is raising pigs; you could get one of these for your pig roast if you live on Cape Ann. You just need to time your roast with their pigs’ lives.
- Salt Marsh Farms also has delicious chickens and turkeys, available for Thanksgiving.
- Mojo is the best sauce in the world. Make it in batches. Pour it on roast pork from your oven, yuca, Cuban Sandwiches, almost anything.
- Yuca is the new kale.
- Cuban Sandwiches are as good as their fame suggests, but they are better made with Portuguese Sweet Bread.
- Here are my recipes, very simple recipes that are important to know even if you are not having a pig roast.
makes 1 cup
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) ground cumin
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender, and taste for seasoning.
4-5 yuca, about 8-10” long
3 tablespoons olive oil + more for tossing the yucca
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced into 1/2 rounds
salt and pepper
1/2 thinly sliced red chili or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup mojo sauce
Bring a very large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the yuca. (Make a slice down the length of the yuca. At that slice take the point of a knife and get under the skin, beginning to pull it back. Once the skin begins to pull away, you can help it along with the blade of the knife, both cutting and pulling at the same time.) Chop the yuca into 5-6” lengths, and add to the boiling water. Reduce to simmer, and cook until a knife inserts easily into the yuca, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet saute onions and chilis in olive oil until softened and almost translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Remove cooked yuca from water.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. When cool enough to handle, cut each yuca piece in half lengthwise. Remove any tough inner fiber. Cut pieces into lengths again, so you have something that looks like yuca “fries,” about 1” in width. (They will shrink when roasted.) Toss “fries” in olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread them in a roasting pan. Bake for 25 -30 minutes, or until they being to turn brown and crispy.
Remove browned yuca to a platter, and distribute the onions over them. Ladle some mojo sauce over the yuca to “dress” it. Put remaining sauce in a pitcher to serve on the side. Serve immediately.
12 slices Portuguese Sweet Bread or another slighty sweet, tender loaf
6 slices Swiss cheese
about 1 pound roast pork
6 slices boiled ham
6 garlic-dill pickles, chopped
Lay out 6 slices of bread. Layer first mustard, cheese, roast pork, about 2 tablespoons mojo sauce, ham, and fresh pickles. Top with 2nd slice of bread.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Toast sandwiches in a large skillet to brown each side. Remove to oven to keep warm and completely melt cheese while you toast the remaining sandwiches. Serve warm.
Bo Abrams Love Letter to Salt Marsh Farms Chicken, reproduced with her permission
Hi Liz and Edgar,
Last night we had the most amazing meal because of the Kosher King heritage breed chicken we got from you. Lately the sweltering heat has made me not want to do much of anything by the end of the day. Especially cook. But I had our lovely kosher king chicken (which we nicknamed Bernie* because Kosher King Heritage Breed Chicken is a mouthful) and a very hot and cranky family that was going to start complaining that they were hungry so I decided grilling was the only way forward.
Cooking a whole chicken on the grill takes a little more time than in the oven (at least on mine) but oh man was it worth it. I gave Bernie a jacket of a fresh garlic and rosemary and sea salt rub and while it roasted I made a simple but oh so sumptuous salad with baby greens and cucumber and heirloom tomato and I marinated grated carrots in a lemony vinaigrette to toss together when the chicken was ready. Then I prepped new potatoes and they went on the grill. And thick slices of multiple colors of beets brushed with olive oil? Yep. Them too on the grill.
And because life is awesome I put together a blueberry buckle in a cast iron skillet. AND Yesirree, that went on the grill too. Can you picture this meal? Sultry summer night on the porch with the soft glow of fairy lights in the civil twilight. A gentle breeze. Serenaded by crickets. Fragrance of roasted chicken mingling with the sweet smells of flowers all around us.
You know how sometimes you give thanks and then dig in to your meal and it is genuine but cursory and then the meal begins? Not this meal. Our appreciation grew with each bite. Bernie was truly was the most delicious chicken we have ever eaten but there was more to it.
We are always thankful for our farmers and our food, but on this night everything was enhanced. It was incredible to be able to taste the nuances of the flavor that comes from the hopes and dreams of starting a new crop and raising a new flock. We could feel the camaraderie and the nuttiness of long days and broken machinery. The kinds of seasoning that only come from shared stories as weeds are pulled and birds are chased. All of this and more showed up at our table, as if the laughter and tears and sweat had watered the soil in this long hot summer.
My irritable family was transformed to a grateful group from the sustenance of hope as much as the deliciousness of the food. Truly the meal was magical. But I do have one regret. That I only got one chicken. I recommend making TWO. Same amount of work but then you get leftovers! Thank you for your hard work and commitment.
*We named her Bernie for so many reasons but most especially because of this Portlandia Episode.