Nancy Leson leads the way to the summer pork fest
In a box out back, go whole hog, or in the oven, roast pork tender-good.
Seattle Times food writer
I WAS LIVING la vida Gidget in a surfing town in Puerto Rico the first time I took part in a pig roast. There on the Rincon beach, a local dude dug a trough in the sand and cooked a pig in the covered pit. There was rum. And cerveza. And a roar from the crowd that drowned out the crashing waves when — 10 hours after its burial — el puerco was devoured on the spot.
I stood at the pearly gates to hog heaven a second time at my sister's wedding. There, the culinary centerpiece was not a multitiered cake but a whole rotisserie-roasted pig. That prodigious porker with the requisite apple in its mouth was the life of the party. If you don't count my brother who (a beer or two into the festivities) posed for posterity with the pig head.
There was plenty of beer on tap last summer when I roasted a pig myself, with help from family, friends and La Caja Asadora: a portable Cuban-style "China" pig roaster that looks like a cross between a Weber and a wheelbarrow.
Perhaps you've seen Bobby Flay, Andrew Zimmern or Martha Stewart introducing viewers to La Caja China, a similar contraption, on food TV — replicating my Puerto Rican pig party in a mere (time-lapsed) four hours. No? Then check out the videos on the official website: www.lacajachina.com.
I'd been fascinated with the idea of roasting a pig in the backyard since reading about La Caja China nearly a decade ago. So when my pal, Leslie, told me she wanted to celebrate her 50th birthday with a pig roast, I said, "I know a guy."
Then I contacted our neighbor, Ken Batali, who scored a box from a friend (and a marinade recipe from his famous cousin, Mario).
Ken urged us to find a cooler big enough to brine the beast overnight (bless you, Miller's Rent-All). "You can use the bathtub," he opined, "but you'd rather not."
Leslie traded $200 for a 66-pounder at Snohomish County's Silvana Meats (food enough for 50) and we did as Ken advised: "Split the breastbone. I use my branch-cutters. You might want to clean them first."
That move allowed us to fit our brined pig into the dual rack built to lodge it between a capacious drip pan underneath and a removable charcoal bed on top.
On the day of the backyard bacchanal, my husband — armed with workman's gloves, 50 pounds of Kingsford, a hefty shovel and a probe-type remote thermometer — provided able assist. He fueled the box with fresh charcoal every hour, tended the ash-pan and flipped the pig for its skin-crisping finale.
There was tequila. And a keg of local beer. And a roar from the crowd as we raised a glass to Leslie — and pigged out.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No whole pig? No La Caja? No problema. Try this instead. Great as-is, or with barbecue sauce on a sandwich.
La Casa Nancy Pork Roast
Serves 4 to 6
1 boneless pork shoulder roast (3 1/2-4 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
1. Position rack in the lowest part of the oven. Preheat to 325 degrees.
2. Thoroughly dry the roast with paper towels, then generously season with salt and pepper.
3. On the stove, heat oil in a Dutch oven until hot but not smoking.
4. Over medium-high heat, brown the roast on all sides.
5. Season with oregano. (Note: if you're fat averse, first remove the roast to a plate, drain all but a thin layer of fat, then return the pork to the pot.)
6. Cover and bake about 3 hours, until pork reaches 175-180 degrees and the meat is fork-tender.