30 August, 2008

There's Nothing Like a Pig Roast

Every year, some friends downstate throw a huge summer yard party. Many of us bring food to share with the multitude of guests; some also help with the work. Our friends are musicians: a stage is set up at one end of the back yard and performances by various bands and soloists go on all day and far into the night.

Food goes on all day and far into the night as well - it starts with trays of deviled eggs, shrimp, raw veggie nibbles, cheeses, chips, and other appetizers late in the morning and proceeds to hamburgers, hot dogs, fresh local corn on the cob, steaming pots of homemade New England clam chowder and baked beans. There are salads and side dishes of all kinds, and a huge variety of desserts, and of course a few kegs of beer as well as soft drinks for the kids and the teetotalers.

And all the while, in the very back reaches of the yard, tucked up against the tall wooden fence, a whole pig turns slowly on a spit above a line of hot charcoal. Señior Rodriguez keeps a close eye on the beast as it roasts in the homemade steel pit, occasionally shoveling in more charcoal and checking the drive chain that connects the spit to the slow electric motor that keeps the pig turning. Occasionally, the sea breeze across the yard shifts and carries the tantalizing aroma of smoke and roasting pork to the crowd and for those fleeting moments the bands are no longer the center of attention, because mouths water and heads turn to gaze at the sizzling meat. Señior Rodriguez smiles and shakes his head at the onlookers and raises a hand, palm turned to the crowd. "Not quite yet." He is a patient man and thus well-suited to his task, for roasting a pig is not an endeavor for the hasty or short of temper. A pig requires about an hour of cooking time for every 15 - 20 pounds of meat, and he starts his setup and prep in the morning so the pig can be over the fire by noon.

Around 5:30 or so, a rhythmic chopping can be heard in the quiet between songs. The curious turn and look; while their attention was elsewhere, Señior Rodriguez has taken the pig off the spit, laid it out on a thick butcherblock board, and is now chopping it into serving-size pieces with a razor-sharp sugarcane knife. Juices run from the perfectly-done meat as he piles the portions into aluminum buffet pans for serving and sets the head and feet to one side. He grins as he points the head to the crowd so that all who enter the food line will look their meal in the eye as they approach.

Most of the partygoers turn back to the band, eager for a taste but knowing that trays of roasted pork will soon be set by the beans and the corn; they are interested in the succulent meat but there is always plenty to go around - no one leaves hungry. Some of us wander to the pig, to watch in fascination as Señior Rodriguez expertly divides the roast with strokes of his deadly-looking blade. And also because we know that the meat is delicious indeed, but the crackling skin is even better. Portions of meat with the skin still on do go into the pans, but most people at the party will pick the skin off and discard it, so those of us In The Know chat with Señior Rodriguez and munch the cracklings and enjoy our savory secret.

Soon the cutting is done and the pork is ready to be served. Rick - our host and the lead singer of the band on stage - announces that the food line is open. For the rest of the night, there will be music and beer and roasted pig accompanied by good fellowship and laughter. When the party and the feast finally wind down, some of the guests transform into the cleanup crew and other guests begin their lingering goodbyes. The pig is nearly gone but the laughter and warmth remain.


eatingclubvancouver_js said...

Indeed. Roasting a whole pig is one of my deep-seated fantasies. ;)

That pig is a beauty!

Just Cook It said...

wonderful post, Dave.