To return to our regularly scheduled food programming,and as reports elsewhere indicate, I was involved in roasting a pig on Rockaway Beach this weekend. This was pig #4 or 5 in the Caja China for me, and I feel as if I am starting to get the hang of it. The standard approach, codified by Babalu Blog, is solid, but injecting the red wine-based marinade seemed to yield slightly dull results, and the mojo can discolor portions of the meat in a way that is not appealing. I'd experimented with a sort of mostarda/marmalade made from the remnants of the citrus that go in to the mojo, but it never seemed to catch on. In terms of doneness, I'd had good luck extending the period that the pig roasts skin side up, so I decided to stick with that, but otherwise go in a different direction. I'd had some luck preparing a rib and loin roast of pork in the oven using a variation on this approach, and I decided to give this Tuscanish approach a try with the whole pig. I did not inject the pig, so I suppose Ozzie Canseco would have been a good name for this pig if I'd thought of that at the time. I put the rub from this receipt on the inside only, and added some rosemary and whole oranges to the roast peppers, and some other gametime decision tweaks that I cannot reconstruct. You can and should make the marinade and rub ahead of time.
It turned out pretty well, to judge from the response, and the late night return visits to the carving table. What I learned:
1) A smaller pig will have better skin for producing crackling than a larger beast. This specimen was about 40 lbs-with other food 1 lb dressed weight / person is about right.
2) You will be happy if you have the pig's head removed by the butcher, and possibly the trotters as well. It makes for a less impressive presentation, but it is much easier to carve. In the past, when I have done these at home, I've made a nice spicy fromage de tete from the head and trotters, though this tends to be a polarizing item. Alice Waters has a nice receipt for FDT in her Cafe Cookbook.
3) If you can, have the butcher butterfly the animal by cutting through the spine nape to tail-- it makes inserting the pig into the rack much easier, and also helps to produce coherent portions from the ribs at serving time. If you are in NYC, Curran's will do this, and it is worth the trip.
4) Cook belly side up until you are close to where you want to be on an instant read thermometer, then flip and cook skin side up until the skin has an almost porkrind like crispness. You will have to watch carefully at this last stage--I had a bit of blackening on the highest points of the skin side, but nothing catastrophic. People will still like your pig if it is a bit overdone: less so if it is demonstrably underdone.
5) Have someone carve and serve the pig. Basically, there are six main units: 2 hams, 2 shoulders, and 2 rib/loin sections. With luck and a bit of practice, you can cut between the ribs from the inside, and produce something like a chop with skin attached. From earlier pigs, I know that if you leave the pig to the ministrations of a crowd that has been waiting to eat it all day, the carcass can get denuded of skin, and look pretty unappetizing pretty quickly. Serve and sauce as you go, or people may overlook the sauce. On a related note, plan your cooking and carving so that you are carving in daylight, or have a well-lit place to carve. In this case, total cooking time was slightly over 6 hours, which is considerably longer than advised for an animal of this size.
Enjoy, and let me know how it turns out if you try it.
Update: It is an honor just to be linked to by a pioneer like Mr. Babalu, but if you found your way here from there, you should know about the less good news for Cuban gourmands in Boston. Otherwise, make yourself at home.