Monday, July 24, 2017

The 40th Birthday Pig

A group of friends were in Spanish Wells (Bahamas) to celebrate one of the party's 40th birthday. The birthday dinner was to be a hog, cooked in a china box. The hog and the box were shipped up a couple of days before on a ferry from Nassau. Even though there were several chefs and a couple of of wannabees (myself included in the wannabees), I was the only person with any kind of experience of a china box. I have a friend in Dallas who has one, so asked him for advice once all the piece parts had arrived. He injects his with a flavorful liquid - we didn't have that luxury. We decided to brine ourfs - after all we had a giant brine source right outside the back door. The house was on the beach.

We didn't have all of the required apparatus, so there were some interesting "make do" activities. The first question was how to get the thing flavorful since we were fresh out of injection tools. Then how to manage the china box, acquire charcoal, etc.

Because the meat is not directly over the coals, it is OK to use match light or lighter fluid. The nasty petroleum fumes don't get into the meat. Since I couldn't locate a chimney, we used match light. Of course having to make sure we didn't lose eyebrows, arm hairs, local vegetation while working with it. I don't think that the headline, "Man sets fire to Spanish Wells while using a china box" would have been ideal.


For the brine

4 large white onions roughly chopped, skin and all
6 large carrots unpeeled, roughly chopped
6" piece of ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 cup red pepper flakes
2 gallons tap water
2 gallons sea water
50 lbs ice
5 lbs salt (3 Morton's table salt tubs at 1lb 10 oz each)

For the hog

1 ~40 lb hog, dressed with liver, heart, lungs, kidneys removed and split. In a cooler with 20 lbs of ice to keep it cool while the brine is being made.
8 small cans of Thai red curry paste
1 cup oil (we had olive, but any neutral oil will do.
4 cups Carolina mustard mop sauce


The Brine

Note that there is no sugar in this brine since that will tend to burn in the china box.
Put the onions, carrots, red pepper flakes, ginger and tap water into a large sauce pot. Bring to a simmer and add the salt. Stir to dissolve. This will make a very concentrated brine. Add the sea water. stir and allow to cool.
In a cooler, add 30 lb of ice - to cover the hog. Then pour over the cooled brine. This will dissolve a considerable amount of the ice (especially as it was pretty warm outside). As the ice melts, it dilutes the brine, but if the cooler is effective enough it doesn't hurt. In fact with a long brining time like this, it does no harm to become a little more diluted.
Leave the hog in the brine for 15 - 18 hours. It becomes a battle of allowing it to come to air temperature and dry out a bit prior to cooking vs the flies. We ended up sealing the china box with the hog inside and then checking periodically to shoo away the flies. Also put some of the offal out for the flies to discover - an old trick I learned in Malaysia, growing up where refrigeration was less advanced than it is now.

The Hog

Combine the Thai red curry paste with the olive oil and mix thoroughly. With a few hours to go before cooking, remove the hog from the brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub the skin and the interior with any flavorants you want. We used the Thai curry on one half and the Carolina mop sauce on the other.

Place the hog in the box, and cover with foil to keep the flies off it. Do not put the lid on the box yet - not until it is hot. About 3 1/2 hours before time to eat, pile up 14 lbs of charcoal onto the lid of the China box (still not placed onto the box) and light the charcoal. We used match light so it became quite the conflagration.
Once the flames have died down, spread the coals with a metal spatula, so they become even. We didn't have a spatula, so I used a large saucepan lid.

After an hour add another 6 lbs of charcoal - remember this was match light. I treasure my eyebrows, so adding match light charcoal to an already very hot lid was an advanced maneuver. The trusty saucepan lid came into play.

After another 30 minutes remove the lid and turn the hog over. Rub the interior with your chosen rubs. By this time the skin was nearly done. But the inside was still pretty raw. Then after another hour, repeat the charcoal addition procedure. This time it didn't catch, so we needed to improvise a long taper (rolled up paper towel) to light it from a suitable distance. The small cigarette lighter would have been much to close for comfort.

After one more hour, we tuned the hog over one more time to dry off the skin some more and to crisp it up. 

We didn't have a thermometer at hand, so had to rely on the old, "How loose are the joints, and what does a piece of meat cut off the haunches taste like? method".

She was done, so with much ceremony she was transferred inside and this was the result.The assembled company found her much to their liking.

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