Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Other White Meat

What’s your family’s Christmas tradition?

Singing carols?

Drinking eggnog?

Our family roasts a pig. (I married into this.)

This first time I saw an entire raw pig, it was lying on my mother-in-law’s kitchen countertop. I had been party to enjoying a meal off one of the family pig roasts prior to this, and I’ve seen a whole pig fully cooked before, but I had never seen one raw, pink, and so very Wilber looking. It was weird to think this creature had been alive mere hours before. I’m definitely a meat eater, and understand that this is the ugly truth behind that fact, but it was a)shocking to see and b)astounding to me that it was on someone’s kitchen counter. As I got over the initial shock, my father-in-law and his cousin carried in another pig and slapped it next to the first.

One of the first questions I get when people find out about this tradition is: Where does one go in Naples to locate a whole pig suitable for roasting? You’d be surprised how easy it is! Rey’s cousin Carlos has been raising them, killing them and selling them since I first met him when he was 13. He was a strapping young lad at 13, and I remember being struck by how entreprenual he was at such a young age. He still is, and he still raises pigs (also dogs, horses, chickens, I call it Old Carlito Had a Farm). So sometimes the pig literally comes from the family farm. But there’s also a Cuban butcher that you can buy them through, already killed and cleaned and prepared for cooking.

The night before, the pig is prepared. The pig is split at the open at the breast, opened up and the men will season up this pig. It’s a pretty simplistic seasoning, the main ingredient being sour oranges. Then they’ll close it up so it looks like a normal pig again and left overnight to marinate.

The next morning, they start cooking it in a box that looks like a cheap coffin. It’s called “La Caja China” but the Cubans pronounce it as “La Cahacheena”. (It took me a long time to realize that this box was Chinese and the name was two words. I thought it was just yet another Spanish word that I didn’t understand.)

Here comes the particularly laborious part—the men sit around the roasting pig and get drunk. Sometimes a game of dominoes is involved.

When the pig is done, it’s taken to an area to cut up, and people will literally snap off piece of skin as it goes by (think pork rinds, same concept but it’s fresher). Trays of white rice, black beans, yucca and Cuban bread come flying out of the kitchen, a buffet line forms, and the rest is history.

Our family does this every single Christmas Eve, most birthday parties, many weddings, some baptisms, and once in a while just for the heck of it. I think it’s interesting how something that was once such a major culture shock for me has evolved to have its own little place in my holiday tradition.

And as a side note: When Rey was in college he, and his fraternity brothers wanted to roast a pig on their semi-annual brotherhood retreat. It was the first time he had been “in charge” of a pig roast and I think in an odd way it was somewhat of a coming of age experience. I remember hearing about them icing the pig overnight in a hotel bathtub. I hope they left the maid a really good tip.


The Greenawalt Family said...

Ashley, I definetly consider your starting to blog to be the second best Christmas gift I got this year (the first being a fever free, heavier Savannah)!! How could you ever think you would not know what to write about???? I am hooked already in your first 3 superbly wriitten posts! I miss you so much and this lets me get a little more of Ashley and the gang :) Merry Christmas...much love to you! Give the kids big hugs and kisses from me.

Kathleen said...

Keith's family does this as well. Not every year, but I'd say at least 6 or 7 times in the almost 10 years we've been married. They like to bury it in the that what Reinery's family does? (I still can't get used to him being called Rey.)