Last summer I was reading the NY Times piece, “Have Pig, Will Dig”. The article chronicled the journey of four friends who wanted to roast a pig in the ground, ala Hawaiian style. Their first attempt to roast the pig in the ground in someone’s back yard in Brooklyn yielded only a call from the fire department. Apparently this type of endeavor is not easily done in the confines of city living so they decided to take their idea upstate to a farm where they had the room to dig a proper pit and roast the pig for the right amount of time. I have to admit I became enthralled with the idea, or rather the process, of roasting a pig in this way.
I shared the article and photo essay with friends, family, and the board of directors of Field & Fork Network (which I am the President of). I talked about the idea a lot with hopes someone, anyone!, would share my curiosity and enthusiasm for roasting a pig in the ground. Alas, I found some fellow enthusiasts who wanted to embark on this roasting journey with me. My good friend and fellow Field & Fork Network board member, Chef Bill Metzgar was the first to get on board. Another good friend, Chef John French soon joined us. We decided the roast would be a great way to kick off the Seasonal Suppers dining series Field & Fork Network would be doing as fundraisers for the organization.
After much discussion, it was decided we would need the following: a pig, a location to roast, a way to dig the hole, rocks to line the hole/pit, fire wood for the fire in the pit, and banana leaves, burlap, and chicken wire to wrap the pig. And most of all, we needed a lot of faith the pig would cook properly while buried two feet underground for roughly 12-15 hours. As we started to accumulate the things needed to make this all happen, we began to hear a variety of stories from folks who knew someone who had roasted a pig in the ground. Some were great stories of how exciting it was to see the pig come out all crispy and delicious. Other stories talked about how the fire went out and the pig came out raw. While I embraced the risk involved (and I am not a chef), my two chef friends did not. They had growing concerns about the pig not roasting as planned. And as the weather continued to not cooperate all through the month of May, there were also concerns about the ground being too wet to roast in at all. Yes, my dreams of Have Pig, Will Dig were soon fading.
Then the idea of roasting the pig in a roasting box came up. The easiest part of this whole process was acquiring the pig. Rich Tilyou of T-Meadow farm is one of a handful of heritage breed hog farmers in WNY. I’ve known Rich since the first Field & Fork Network Farmer-Chef Conference back in February 2009 which he attended at the urging of Jen Small of Flying Pigs Farm in the Hudson Valley. Jen was conducting one of the workshops that year and had known Rich for some time as she has purchased breeding stock from him. Many local chefs and foodies have come to appreciate Rich’s pork products as being some of the best the region has to offer. Rich recently purchased a La Caja China roasting box and suggested this would be a good route to take with roasting our pig. This option offered limited risk and enough spectacle for our guests. Bill and John were sold.
While I admit I was somewhat disappointed, I knew this was the right option as RSVP’s kept coming in and the guest list kept growing. The thought of having the pig come out of the ground raw and not being able to feed the 50+ people attending was daunting to say the least.
So the chefs got their menu planned and prepped with assistance from Sean Purdy, a chef at the Lexington Co-op. They decided, in addition to the whole 70lb. pig, they would also roast two pork butts, one smothered in a hickory cherry butt BBQ sauce and the other done in a coffee rub crusted with Bill’s basic BBQ sauce. These would be cooked on the grill. The main event was soaked over night in a 3-2-1 brine of salt, brown sugar, and maple syrup before heading into the roasting box the next day.
The complements to the meal included; 3 different kinds of corn bread which guests could smother with a honey lime butter, roasted vegetable terrines, potato salad, and fruit salad. To start, guests were fed deep-fried Caesar salad wraps dipped in Caesar dressing. While most parties are held in honor of an individual(s), this one was definitely in honor of pork.
Our hats go off to Rich Tilyou the farmer who provided the pork, Bill Metzgar & John French the chefs who put much time & energy into creating a fabulously delicious meal, and to my parents, Karen & Jim Gallo who hosted the event and topped the day with an amazing fireworks show!
Here is a photostream chronicling the day, compliments of Caesandra Sewell!
~posted by Lisa Tucker