Wednesday, May 28, 2008
I roasted a pig this weekend. Slow cooking and all day discussion of the pig, what it will taste like, is it going too slow, and man does it smell good. Thursday night we prepared our sacrifice. We splayed it flat, inserted serrano chilies and cracked garlic cloves into slits in the exposed inside flesh, rubbed the whole thing with chopped garlic and black pepper, and covered it with sliced limes, thyme, and oregano. We placed the head in the belly and tied the whole pig back 'round to marinate. Sunday morning (7AM), we built the pit, wired the pig on the rack, started a fire with good charcoal and McConnell's Farms apple wood, and prepared to start the pig. We were on schedule, the pig looked great, and the machine of this long day had been properly set in motion. In a burst, I decided to put a little more charcoal on before we started the cooking. Get it going good. My opinion was met with disapproval.
I didn't listen.
We placed the pig over the pit, covered her up, and started the rest of the day. I returned about 20 minutes later to find the bottom of the pit on fire and the back of the pig blackened. Emergency operations ensued - putting out the fire, opening the sides of the pit to allow the heat to escape, putting out the charcoal. Once the disaster was stalled, we turned the pig to look. Crispy black and smoking. Three previously excited chef faces looked and me, crestfallen. Really crestfallen, never a more appropriate time to use the word. The day had stalled, collapsed, disintegrated, and died in the pit. I didn't look at them, I felt them trying not to look at me, trying not to look at each other.
Only one solution, move forward. We surrounded the pig and removed the burnt skin with fingers and tiny tongs. For a final rinse, we stood the pig rack up and washed her down. The pig was returned to the pit skin side down, a light, smokey apple wood fire re-kindled, and we proceeded gently.
It turned out mostly fine. The meat was tender and delicious, especially in the belly, of course. There was a nice smoke flavor with no trace of acrid burnt skin aftertaste. but the golden, smoked, browned, crackling, fat-seeping skin was not there, giving us a sad, ugly pig to serve.
Every day we seem to re-learn what we have known for our whole lives. Take the slow things slow, start solid, and follow along. Fast processes go fast and slow go slow and respect must be paid to each type in turn. Start the pig slow, catch up as the day goes if you need to, be flexible with the finish time.