I had some time on my own the other week and was in the mood for a great sandwich and good beer. I spent a couple of hours driving around the areas looking for a good choice. I ended up at a new place that looked good. I ordered a Bell’s on tap and settled in for what I thought was going to be a good meal. I ordered a seafood “burger” and when the server asked how I wanted it cooked I knew right then and there I was in trouble. Of course I left disappointed and pondering the state of food. The menu was full of all things you expect on every menu in America. There was no real originality. I always thought that the purpose of a restaurant was to get something you can’t get at home. I wanted to experience something that was different was exciting and the flavors “popped”. I can go into any lunch joint and get a burger and Italian beef at 1/2 the price I would have paid in this “new” restaurant. the quality would have been the same or similar. Where’s the excitement in that. The majority of the guests seemed to be just eating for the sake of eating verses dining. Dining doesn’t have to be white table cloth and expensive. It needs to be appropriately prices, correctly prepared and make you feel excited about the fact that I just enjoyed something that I wish I could make that at home but can’t.
In my world I am fortunate to have the skills and desire to do so. I drive home that evening and made the decision that if I wanted a great sandwich and a beer I would make it myself and invite my friends over to enjoy the same. The plan, roast a whole pig and make little sandwiches with some condiments that encompassed several cuisines that have roasted pig associated with them.
I invited my friends and asked them to bring snacks and “good beer”. The only restriction was that I had to have an inspection of their offerings and if I felt that it was not up to standards they had to do the dishes or be asked to leave. Everyone was great and we ended up with some great choices. Home made salsas, great local seasonal beers and desserts baked in home kitchens by passionate cooks.
Now about that pig. Having a wife and her family with Cuban heritage, roasting a pig is serious stuff. There is a tradition around it and a lot of comments from the “peanut gallery” about how its done. I must admit there is something special about roasting a whole animal. In Cuba as in many other countries, it is roasted in a pit with natural vegetation such as bananas leaves, guava leaves or agave. In the midwestern suburbs I live in, in is not good to be digging up the back yard. I acquired a CajaChina Roasting box several years ago that duplicates the process and is relatively easy to accomplish.
I purchased a locally raised 80 Lb. pig which was harvested that week and was extremely fresh. The process is long marination in Mojo. The one we use is, lemon, lime and grapefruit juice to replicate bitter orange juice, pureed garlic, cumin, oregano, black pepper and salt. I open cavities in the large muscles and separate the skin and rub all the prime areas with the Mojo and insert whole cloves of garlic in the cavities. This sits for up 24 hours. The we roast the pig in. I am not going into details of the roasting but the results are dark amber skin. The crackling in my home land of England. The texture is crispy and the flavor somewhat salty. The essence of roasting. The meat is savory and moist. The textures vary from one part of the animal to another. There is generally a fight for the little prizes such as the cheeks or the belly.
How I served it. This was not rocket science but something that brings smiles to the faces of my friends. I put the whole pig on the table and we just dug in. It was somewhat like an autopsy but without the CSI drama and special effects. I served black beans, rice and fried sweet plantains for the purists in the room. However I added some of those things that take it to another level. I gave everyone the opportunities to make sandwiches that I had been craving two weeks earlier and the whole reason why someone would stand in the rain in 40F weather tending a fire. That can’t generally get this at home or at the local sandwich shop. The choices. Pickled Dijon Mayo to replicate the flavors of a Cuban Sandwich, Roasted Chipotle Salsa, Caramelized Rye Style Onions with Caraway, Spicy Curried Plum Chutney, and Sun Dried Tomato Pesto with Hot Peppers.
I got what I wanted, even though I had only two little sandwiches I was full. I was full of enjoyment for seeing my friends eat a good meal, drink a great beer and spend sometime together and talk about everything else other than work, bad bosses, hectic schedules. That is what I want in a sandwich. Not just something to fill the void in my stomach but an eating experience that makes you feel good and lets you enjoy the possibilities that are out there.