Monday, June 04, 2007

Ding Hai (Year of the Pig)

In search of our next culinary fix, the 3 original members of the Thursday Club went separate ways for Memorial Day weekend. Jason headed west to the Rocky Mountains for Man Camp (21 guys, 5 kegs of beer, and enough meat, firearms and explosives to raise Government suspicion), Teddy stayed close and explored the wonders of shopping in Chinatown (see Pudding, Black below), and I returned to my hometown of Buffalo to partake in one of my family's most honored traditions.....the pig roast. This is the 5th consecutive Memorial Day Pig Roast we have hosted and 7th in total.

The formula is simple and unchanged:
- invite all of your closest swine-happy friends (no children allowed.....they just get in the way and risk getting sworn at, thrown for the purpose of sport, or being deep fried)
- buy enough alcohol to keep your guests happy (in this case, one keg of Guinness, Molson Canadian, and Canadian Light)
- cook any animal you can get your hands on.

A twelve pound turkey and six pound chicken were also on the menu, but the guest of honor without a doubt was the pig. This year it weighed in at a whopping 150 pounds, far bigger than any previous oinker. The collective anticipation and appetite of the party grew every time the cover of the smoker was lifted as an intoxicating, fragrant smoke floated above. I'm certain everyone within a two block radius cooking hot dogs and burgers on their backyard grills were insanely jealous, if not damn near suicidal.

Once the finished pig was pulled off the spit, a small group of us huddled around it to get pictures, gaze at it's awesomeness and to be the first ones to taste it. Since the slow cooking process (8+ hours total) made the outermost parts of the pig nearly fall off of the the carcass, those were the first parts to sampled. In the hoofs, we found the perfect combination of crispy skin, a thin layer of fat, and melt-away flesh. The pig's head was next to picked apart by the lucky few who circled around the butchers table like buzzards. After tasting the surprisingly salty and wonderfully moist cheek meat, I inquired about the preparation and cooking technique of the beast. The couple who prepare the pig for us every year let me in on a little secret.......there is no secret. No seasoning? Nope. No coating of oil? Not at all. The only outside ingredient other than fire was oak barrel wood chips that smoked during the 8+ hours of cooking and permeated the entire pig. How can such a simple cooking process yield this kind of result? I couldn't quite wrap my brain around this exactly, but I was too occupied with food and drink to think any further about it. Perhaps the diet of the pig has something to do with it? Maybe the constant smoking at a low temperature? I'm afraid a simple shoulder shrug will have to do for now.

After the head and trotters were removed, the skin was removed in shingle-like portions and put back on the smoking grill to crisp up. The layers of fat which kept all of the meat moist were scraped off and discarded leaving gigantic slabs of tenderloin to be smoked for another hour or so. The ribs that came off of this animal were almost comical in size, comparable to the Brontosaurus ribs which topple Fred's car in the opening of the Flintstones'. We easily had more than hundred pounds of assorted pork to gorge ourselves on throughout the night.

Although taste ultimately rules when considering the world's most perfect food, whole roasted pig makes a claim for this title in my book because of it's simplicity and communal nature. There is just something special about a large group of people sharing one main dish that comes from one whole animal. It isn't exactly practical or cheap to enjoy this experience too often, which also adds to it's allure. As I said though, at the end of the day, you'll never find a more succulent and tasty piece of meat then from a fresh roasted pig......and that's good enough for me.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Dude - that's a lot of pork!

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