Food plays a pretty large central theme in any visit to South Miami. After an all night flight to Miami i got as far as the baggage claim sign before encountering the first Cuban food kiosk. My niece Jennie picks me up and our first stop shortly thereafter is a Cuban bakery for pastelitos made of guavo and a shot or two of expresso coffee. If you aren’t amazed at not only the great tasting food plus all the variety for the tasting, then you just didn’t get to experience the real Miami from a locals perspective.
Thanks to my brother Ricks 50th birthday party i saw first hand the “new version” of pig on a spit, a long time yearly tradition. First we visit a wholesaler that carries frozen pigs in a box. Then bro Rick calculates the prices per pound before we drive off to the Florida countryside to compare frozen to real life. This slaughter house does pigs, goats and an occasional duck too. Bottom line is prices are the highest ever for this time of year, a 66 pound porker goes for around $200. When killed and dressed the weight drops down to about 45 pounds.
The process is not for the faint of heart i.e. select the weight size from the pig kennel and step away before the mallet drops on to your future main course. The pig is then taken into an FDA select approved building and in about 10 minutes it exits in a clear plastic bag over the shoulder of a worker and onto your awaiting mini van, truck or suv. All the older type slaughter houses in the area were shut down for lack of approved pig handling regulations.
The appropriate trophy bag photos are taken, the guy is tipped for his efforts and off we go to grandmothers house. End cost is slightly 3 cents per pound more for a fresh kill vs frozen. Now comes the mad dash home before it cools off or heats up i know not which. At Ricks home we place the pig skin side down on a large work surface. Now comes the complicated parts to the future pig roast.
Strain fresh bottle of mojo into a bowl, reserving solids. You don’t know mojo? Look it up it packs a punch to any meat. Transfer liquid to a large syringe and inject the mojo into the meat of the pig every 3 to 4 inches, taking care not to push syringe down so far that it punctures the skin on the underside of the meat.
Marisol took charge at this point in manhandling our future entree. Pig bath and beyond before getting started again with the interior and exterior of the pig with adobo criollo then a pig massage with mojo all over; rubbing reserved solids from mojo over rib cage. Back he or she goes in clean plastic clear bag then completely cover with ice letting the marinate work its magic overnight.
Next day bring the pig to room temperature. Lock the pig into the wire rack of the Caja China by using the S-hooks. Place locked pig in the Caja China on top of the drip pan, skin side down. Insert a meat thermometer with a cable attachment into the thickest rear section of the pig. I think wee missed this part.
Place ash pan and grid tray on top of the Caja China. Fill the bottoms of two large chimney starters with crumpled newspaper. Starting with 16 pounds of real charcoal briquettes (not instant), fill the tops of the chimney starters with some of the 16 pounds of charcoal. Place a chimney starter on each end of the grid tray; light the newspaper in each chimney starter.
Flames will sweep up through the chimney, igniting charcoal. When charcoal is smoking red-hot, after 15 to 20 minutes, dump out charcoal from starters and add remaining charcoal to total 16 pounds; spread evenly across grid tray.
After 1 hour of cooking, evenly add 8 pounds charcoal. Repeat process every hour until pig reaches 185 to 187 degrees, about 3 1/2 hours.
When pig has reached 185 to 187 degrees, two people wearing protective gloves raise the grid tray and carefully shake ashes off the coals and into ash pan. Carefully place the grid tray on the long handles.
Rick lifts the caja china (pig cook box) off the ash pan disposing of ashes. Now using protective gloves, carefully turn pig skin side up and return to the Caja China. With a knife, carefully make cross cuts into skin between each grid of the rack, taking care not to cut into the meat. Return ash pan and grid tray with hot coals to the Caja China and cook, until skin is crisp, 30 to 45 minutes more.
Remove pig from the box one last time. Place on bread type large pan and let my mother at it with a boning type knife. In record time one has a deboned, cut up pig pieces ready for serving. Lots more appropriate pig pictures are again taken and time to eat pig is shortly at hand.
Also on the menu were tamales, congris, mac and cheese, sausage and pineapple, meatballs, yuca, plantains and a whole lot more than one cares to partake before a night of feasting. Last but not least the birthday boy cake is brought in. Rick is toasted by everyone with several liquor shots of anything from tequilla to fireball and the birthday party continues until the wee hours. No complaints from any neighbors as they seem to all be present including a sizeable portion of the local Sheriffs department including 911.
Cuban cuisine has been influenced by Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures. Traditional Cuban cooking is primarily peasant cuisine that had little concern with measurements, order and timing.
A majority of the dishes are sautéed or slow-cooked over a low flame. Most Cuban cooking relies on a few basic spices, such as garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay laurel leaves. Many dishes use a sofrito as their basis.
Sofrito, used as the basis for seasoning in many dishes, consists of onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, and ground pepper quick-fried in olive oil. The sofrito is what gives certain foods their distinctive flavor. It is used when cooking black beans, stews, various meat dishes, and tomato-based sauces.
Meats and poultry are usually marinated in citrus juices, such as lime or sour orange juices, and then roasted over low heat until the meat is tender and literally falling off the bone. Another common staple to the Cuban diet are root vegetables such as yuca, malanga, and boniato, which are found in most Latin markets. My favorite thus far is ahiaco!! Uuumm good. I like it about as much as cioppino.
These vegetables are flavored with a marinade, called mojo, which includes hot olive oil, lemon juice, sliced raw onions, garlic, cumin, and a little water. …… .and with that Forrest; that is all i know about roasting a Cuban/American pig.
Happy 50th Brother Rick. Thanks for the memories. Your older brother Ralph