I GREW up with a rather unhealthy exposure to the terrible combination of the National Geographic Channel and the Food Network. My gustatory fantasies have made a turn for what is not necessarily the unusual, but for what is more than the usual. Documentaries of cultural cook-offs, resto digs and backyard DIY cookery have long held a pit roast nagging at me to make it a happening.
We’re wont to talk about food among my bros as most are in the industry. Come to think of it, when do we ever not talk about food? Sober we’d go about dissecting the elements and flavor combinations. Sloshed and it’s a rabid game of top-that. Chef Tim dela Cruz made the mistake of asking the question, “What hasn’t been done to pork around these parts?”, and I issued the challenge with much selfish motive.
He picked up the gauntlet and found a collaborator in Jan Rodriguez. A couple of probiotic hogs were pledged by Dad’s Delivery-Restaurant Depot, wines from D+B, tents and tables ordered, invites shot out to close friends, the green light received to dig a fire pit and accommodate guests the far end of The Greenery’s parking lot and we were ready to rock ‘n roast.
My imaginations of going six feet under was in actuality just three deep with ample room around two split hogs. A coal fire was built on stones lining the pit and brought down to a steady glow. A layer of banana leaves came between that and the splayed hogs stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, ginger and simply seasoned with sea salt. Another layer of banana leaves came on before a topping of smoldering coal and a wet canvas to steam the arrangement. The seven-hour cook time had everyone kicking back to drinks with periodic checks to maintain the heat.
Darkness rolled in as did our invitees. There’s nothing like crowd mentality to draw passersby into a throng and soon we had a long line of eager walk-ins waiting for service.
Low and slow heat over extended periods render meats ultra-tender that it was impossible to haul the hogs whole. Steaming hot sections were fished out from the pit to collective oohs and ahhs from the audience. More anticipation built up from prep as the pork was processed three ways.
It is an impossibility to do a slow roast without making a pulled dish given the fall-apart quality of the cooked meat. Hand-pulled pork was simply slapped with a Chipotle barbecue sauce for a classic meat and sauce flavor pairing with the extra kick from the smoked pepper. A generous topping of pepper and apple cider slaw gave some flavorful texture with the mini-brioche buns providing the starch counter in the Pulled-Pork Sliders
Bright and tangy cilantro aioli echoes the tart freshness and flavor of the pico de gallo and, again, in the yogurt infused with the pungency of garlic. Fresh cilantro add more punches of lemony flavor bringing out the meaty sweetness in the succulent pork all held by the smokiness of charcoal-roasted flour tortillas in the Tacos Carnitas.
Straight-up roast pork got some smoky, sweet and sour fruitiness from gastrique. Here the simple, meaty sweetness and flavor of the pork is, again, highlighted. This time with a burnt fruit deglaze in the Roast Pork with Grilled Pineapple and Mango Gastrique.
The solids slid down with pink lemonade, Rose’, reds and Mountain King IPA’s. The moderately sweet and citrusy profiles across the drinks played perfect complements to the pork dishes. Most of the guests stayed from opening and through the waves that crashed in until the two whole hogs were have beens.
Fantasy fulfilled, I am somehow left wanting more of it. Another installment perhaps? A twist? There is that Beer-Can Turkey, too…