Hello, everyone! I've been preparing for the upcoming traditional Christmas Eve whole pig roast at our house, came across these pics in my 2010 Christmas Eve folder and wanted to share the pics of our yearly tradition with all of you.
THE TRADITION: My parents are Cuban and, ever since I can remember, we've had Christmas Eve (a.k.a. "Noche Buena") at one of our family member's homes. Up until about ten years ago, we used to use the cinder block method of cooking our pigs. About ten years ago, though, my Uncle Frank (who builds and repairs lunch trucks and owns a metal shop) built a pig roasting box (a.k.a. "Caja China") for my father. Not only is the roasting box easier to transport and use, it's also not a pain in the butt to build and take down every year!
THE ROASTING BOX: This enclosed pig roasting box is made of plywood and is lined with sheet metal, in order to maintain the heat within the box, which is where the pig is cooked. The heat source is provided by charcoal briquets, which are lit and spread across the removable steel cover. This cover is made of 1/4" steel and retains heat very well. Nested within this steel cover is a removable briquet grate, which is meant to be lifted every once in a while, taking he briquets with it and leaving the burnt ashes behind. The idea behind having this removable briquet grate is so that the burnt charcoal's ashes can be easily removed. We use a combination of a hoe and a shovel to remove the ashes and then place them in a metal container that is located nearby. If you don't remove the ashes, the heat created by the charcoal briquets will not transfer efficiently to the primary steel cover. At the bottom of the roasting box are four aluminum legs. The legs on the bottom of the box not only separate the box from the ground, but since two of the legs on one end are shorter, this actually inclines the box in such a way that the dripping juices from the pig end up collecting on one end of the roasting box and then exit the bottom through an aluminum pipe in the middle of that end. Below that pipe, we place a small metal bucket to catch these drippings. Inside the box, the pig is sandwiched between two aluminum separator trays that allow the pig to sit above the interior floor of the box, so that the heat can reach all the way around the pig. We sandwich the pig between these two separator trays and keep everything together by tying everything with metal wire. During the cooking process, the primary steel cover is removed (using welding gloves on its hot metal handles) and the pig is turned over a few times.
THE PREPARATION: A couple of weeks before Christmas Eve, we pre-order our pig. Whether it's at a slaughter house or a supermarket, we typically order a pig that is between 75 and 95 pounds, depending upon the amount of people we will have at the house. If we happen to order one that's on the larger side, we have to cut the pig's snout and cut the hind feet, in order to get it to fit into the roasting box. We pick up the pig on the afternoon of the 23rd and bring it home. The day before this, though, my father prepares his marinade. I do know that the basis for this marinade is comprised of sour oranges, but that's all I truly know. However, as he prepares the marinade this year, I will definitely be writing down the ingredients because, unfortunately, my father isn't getting any younger and I don't want to lose this long-time family recipe. Once the pig is at home, we spread it out on a table and my father strategically cuts certain bones with a small hatchet and a hammer. After, he makes certain deep cuts along the pig's body and adds salt deep within these cuts. While I'm watching him do his thing with the salt, I always swear that the pig's meat will come out salty, but it never does. He always tells me that it will never taste salty, due to the lengthy cooking process and the amount of fat on the pig. Once done with the salting, he brings out the marinade and injects certain parts. Then, the marinade is liberally applied and massaged into the pig. Once this marinating process is complete, the pig sits throughout the night, soaking up all of the goodness. The next day, the pig is tied between the separator trays and the cooking process begins.
THE PULLING: The last step before pulling the pig out of the box is, in my opinion, one of the most important because everyone always waits for the pig to come out so that they can get a piece of the crispy skin (a.k.a. "Chicharron"). It is very flavorful and loaded with everything that will clog your arteries and put you into immediate cardiac arrest, but it's a once-a-year thing that lasts for only a few minutes, so it's okay to indulge like piranhas! To give the skin that perfectly toasty finish, my father brushes on some vinegar mixed with some other stuff (I promise to get that recipe this year, too!) a few minutes before the pig gets pulled.
Not because he's my father, but I've heard dozens of people make comments about how my father's pig roasts are the absolute best that they've ever tried in their lifetimes. It must be true because our yearly traditional Christmas Eve pig roast's attendance keeps growing and growing!
Here are some pics of our yearly tradition. Please enjoy!
My father preparing the pig the evening before Christmas Eve.
Here's a shot of the pig being cut in all the right places.
Here's another shot of the pig being cut in all the right places. The cuts between the ribs are more pronounced in this shot.
Here's a shot of the marinated pig between the separator trays.
Here's another shot of the marinated pig between the separator trays. After we cut the snout and the back feet, it's ready to go into the roasting box.
This is my father starting up the charcoal. Lighter fluid is allowed, in this case, because the charcoal doesn't heat the pig directly.
This is a shot of the charcoal heating up. To the left, you'll see the metal ash bucket.
This is what the pig looks like cooking inside the box.
This is my father eyeballing the exposed charcoal with concern. We had a little wind and rain come through, so he covered up the charcoals. In this shot, you can see the hoe to the right of the box and the handle of the shovel to the left of the box. That's what we use to remove the ashes. On the small, round table are the trays we use to break down the pig after it is pulled from the box.
This is a close-up of the charcoal when it is full of ash. Notice how the charcoal briquets stay on the nested briquet grate and the ash falls through to the primary steel cover. Once the nested briquet grate is tapped and removed, the ash is easily discarded.
This is a shot of the fully cooked pig as it is about to be pulled out of the box. Notice how the skin is perfectly toasted. The trick is my father's vinegar concoction being brushed onto the skin shortly before the pig is pulled.
This is my father and I pulling the pig out of the box. Here, I am cutting the metal wire that holds the separator trays together.
The money shot! Here, the pig sits and waits for us to devour the skin, then everything else! Mmmm!!!
At this point, everything turned out so well, even the pig was smiling!
Finally, my father and I were done with the cooking part, so Uncle Frank stepped in and broke down the meat. It was tender and tasty, as it always is!
In 11 days, we'll be doing it all over again! I CAN'T WAIT!!!