Pig on a Spit

It is always interesting to me how people react when you tell them that you are going to a pig roast. Some find it fascinating, perhaps even in a oh-look-there's-a-car-wreck kind of way, some find it mouthwatering, and others find it gruesome and perhaps a bit barbaric. It's about fifty-fifty when it comes to wanting to know the details. So if you are in the gruesome, don't-want-the-details group, read someone else's post. Just walk away. Okay, so you are still here. Well, don't say I didn't warn you.

I am in the group that is not only fascinated, but I wholeheartedly want to participate. I imagine that I am in the minority. Most people don't want to deal with their food on this level. Not really. But for years I wanted to roast a pig. Or bury it in a pit and slow-cook it. Then, last February (2004), my friend Max invited me to his annual pig-roast birthday fete. It was the 3rd year in a row that he had taken over his parents lovely Monterey home, invited way too many people, and put on a sit-down feast that would have made Henry VIII blush. Not able to keep my opinion to myself, I jumped right in and we agreed to bury the pig in a pit and cook it all day. Max did a lot of research, bought a very large pig, brined it and stuffed it with herbs and other items I won't go into detail about, and then we wrapped it, threw it in and buried it. We cooked it all day and finally unearthed it late into the evening. Unfortunately, a few things had gone wrong. The pig was undercooked. Significantly. And it was perfumed by the burlap we wrapped it in (whose idea was that?). Anyway, we resolved to learn from our mistakes. The next year would be different. (From what I heard, the previous two years had been somewhat unsuccessful in the pig arena as well.)

So last weekend, Max's birthday rolled around once again. After much planning, email swapping, and flipping through cookbooks, Max arrived at a fantastic (if somewhat lofty) menu. Centered around the pig of course. He purchased a 25-30 lb suckling pig from Golden Gate Meats, hauled it home, then rubbed it down with plenty of salt, pepper, herbs, and cracked fennel seeds. The day before the party, he and his ever-patient fiancee Davina drove the pig down to Monterey (her car is still a bit perfumed by this experience). The day of the party they rented a spit, built a nice low fire using logs and charcoal, and by noon the piggy was slowly spinning toward dinner. Try as I might, I didn't make it there until just after the pig started rotating, but throughout the day, in between making fresh herb and ricotta ravioli, shaved fennel and blood orange salad, roasted beets, smoked trout with homemade mayonnaise, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, braised greens, caramelized onion focaccia, roasted peppers, and myriad Italian-inspired tarts, tortes, and cakes (especially the heavenly goat cheese and lemon cake), we kept an eye on the pig. And throughout the day, as the sun went down, the guests arrived, and the wine started flowing, the pig took on a beautiful bronzed color.

Late in the evening, after the antipasti and primi courses had been enjoyed, the moment of truth arrived. Armed with flashlights, heavy gloves, and a large wooden board, we set out for the pig. To the tune of ooohs and ahhhs (and perhaps a few little whimpers), we carved the succulent meat and passed it around the table. Heaven. This year we had succeeded. Juicy, perfectly seasoned, it was one of the best pigs I've ever eaten. The rest of the evening is a blur, probably best left to our memories, although I do remember a heated ping-pong tournament around 4am.

So now that we've mastered the pig, what's next? I can't wait until next year.

*A side note: It is easy to see where Max gets his incredible passion for food (and his adventurous food spirit!) as his parents are hugely active in making this annual party happen. Among many other things, thanks to his dad for setting up a new smoker so we could eat that amazing trout and thanks to his mom for waking up at some ungodly hour to make all of those amazing desserts!

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