Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be used as a recipe and it may contain images that vegetarians and vegans may find offensive. Yes I am an omnivore, please don’t judge me.
A pig is roasting over smoldering coals above an aluminum box under palm trees, a garlic tinged smokey haze drifts through the warm humid air, Cuban relatives chatter urgently about their Christmas shopping adventures, saliva escapes my half open mouth and my stomach growls. It is Christmas Eve day and I am witnessing a ritual woven into my culinary DNA, in a world far away from my Seattle WA home; Miami Florida.
My first pig roast was Christmas Eve 1980, I was only ten. It was in the backyard of my cousin’s house. It was a huge backyard that bordered Alligator habitat, a canal, a place where we kids weren’t supposed to go near. The advantage of living near alligator habitat was the topsoil. The layer above the ancient coral reefs that make up most of south Florida was deep enough for my cousins to dig a hole to roast a pig by burying it. All night, as I played with my little cousins, all I could think about was tasting my first authentic Cuban roast pig. The roast pig I had back home in Chicago wasn’t authentic, it was cooked in an oven. But after several hours of cooking, the clock ticking closer to Christmas, the pig was finally unearthed, only to find it was still raw in the middle.
Fast forward 33 years – that many really?- and I am witnessing my second Cuban pig roast. This time we were in a part of Miami where burying a pig was out of the question. Instead a cooking box or caja was used. There are several ways to make a caja, this one is made from a large aluminum sink cabinet reclaimed from a restaurant that went out of business. The bottom of the caja is layered with charcoal then lit. When the coals are hot, the caja is ready for the pig.
The pig began marinating the morning of the roast. The secret – making the marinade or mojo with lots of garlic and using sour oranges picked from a tree a few feet from the caja, then injecting it into the muscle of the pork.
When the coals are ready the dressed pig comes out under a veil of banana leaves. The banana leaves, also from the backyard, cover the splayed corpse of a pig sandwiched between two aluminum mesh holders secured with wire. The holder fits perfectly on top of the caja, where the pig is placed skin side down.
After checking to make sure the pig is positioned correctly, the banana leaves are replaced then topped with a metal sheet. The pig is left for about twenty minutes to sear the skin.
Once the skin is seared, then begins the several hour long process of flipping the pig, every hour or so, to ensure proper cooking.
Unfortunately, our relative visiting schedule didn’t allow me to stay for the end result – something I will have to change the next time I visit. I just hope it is sooner than 33 years.
Note: If you want some instruction on how to roast a pig – Cuban style – or ideas of a marinade called mojo – you can google “Cuban roast pig” or visit these two website one on Martha Stewart’s website really? and one on the three Cuban guys website.
A big Gracias to my cousins and their friends who let this gringatina from Seattle observe this succulent ritual.