How does one become jaded about roasting an entire animal?
I am still trying to answer this.
Naturally, I got sick as soon as I returned from "Book Tour! - The Musical!" so, maybe it had something to do with my Menage-Á-Puffs Tissues and NyQuil. Despite having just gotten over a cold, I wanted to do a Sunday Night Dinner, and we needed to do one because there were press people who needed to attend. Truth be told, I also missed seeing both the regulars and newbies, so I guess I needed it too. Also, another pig roast has been on my mind for the past year, but I couldn't get it together until now.
One of the press people due to attend was from Princeton Alumni Weekly, and was doing a story on Zora. It made sense to do dinner at her joint, so he could see and report on the heights to which she aspired and achieved "in the nation's service, and in the service of all nations..." (Home ownership, and a superb collection of vinyl, for starters!)
This choice of locale ultimately meant that Peter was going to be the Roaster In Chief. And here, people, is where it gets REALLY GOOD.
For the past, oh... seven years, and probably through about ten lamb roasts, (and one pig roast - the very first time we roasted a whole animal) we have spit-grilled using a fifty-gallon drum, cut in half, resting on a hunk of junkyard salvaged I-beam.
We'd put the animal on a spit which rested precariously across stacked cinder blocks either "liberated" from local construction sites, or else purchased from the only lumberyard I've ever seen that featured pictures of Obama and Michelle hanging right next to girly pinups...
Cooking-wise (i.e. turning-the-spit-wise,) we at Sunday Night Dinner have traditionally relied on the kindness of strangers, the power of booze and the Tom Sawyer method ("Wheee! Turning a pig/lamb in the freezing cold is FUN! Hey... where are you going? Hey!...) to convince people to sit in (usually) the freezing cold and sloooowly turn the pig/lamb on the spit nonstop for something in the order of five hours. Occasionally, to escape, the designated turner would have to resort to straight-up subterfuge, and con somebody into turning the spit for a minute, only to disappear forever...
This time, I think Peter correctly realized he would probably end up doing solo duty on the wheels of pork, so he purchased a Souvla: an authentic spit roasting setup that involves a rotary *MOTOR*, so all the turner is responsible for is refilling their drink and occasionally moving the hot coals around.
After you've wrestled the animal onto the spit that is. Which, apparently, takes a significant amount of time. (I have nothing to say for myself about this part, because I cooked a cocktail party for a job the night before, stayed up really late, and, having just recovered from being sick, slept until noon. I missed the entire hoisting and trussing of the animal; Zora and Peter were on their own for that.)
But the reports were that it took WAY longer than anyone thought it would, which put us about two hours behind the schedule that Zora had thoughtfully made the night before. Two hours doesn't seem like any big deal to you, right? You're thinking: "Hey! They have all day! What's the problem?"
Well, that's somewhat true... But it is also true that you cannot rush roasting a whole animal; It isn't like you can speed roast it towards the end to make up the time.
When we arrived, Peter insisted that Karl join him and help him drink some beer, and they took up temporary residence in the Prison Yard, to watch the pig go round and round and round.
...and round and round and round...
Note cute foil ear protectors to prevent overcrisping...
Note cute foil ear protectors to prevent overcrisping...
Zora had been busy in the kitchen for who knows how long, and had produced gorgeous, flaky pie crusts for Pumpkin Pie. She consulted both her father Patrick and the Libby's label to get the ideal spice/ratio/game plan. Like Medicine, cooking is both science AND art, people!
I quickly got to work making Sara Jenkins' Turnip, Leek, Green Apple and Jerusalem Artichoke soup from The Olives And Oranges Cookbook. Naturally, I couldn't find enough Jerusalem Artichokes, so I decided that cardoons could work. It turned out to be a simple, delicious and delicate tasting soup, even though the texture is hearty. You chop and saute the artichokes, onions, leeks, and garlic (and in this case, cardoons), add water and simmer for twenty minutes, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables, some water, wine and/or stock, and simmer for ninety minutes. Puree, add salt and a little olive oil and... presto! A scooby snack for people turning the pig or, um, people who are starving and waiting for the pig to finish roasting...
Pumpkin pies went into the oven for an hour or so, which left time for preparing beets for roasting, i.e. cutting off the tops and blanching them in very salty water, washing the dirt off the beet roots and putting those in a roasting pan with a little water and covering the pan with aluminum foil.
Squash for roasting, this ultimately went into the Farro, Bulgur, Sage and Squash side dish I wrote for potential publication in Saveur Magazine earlier in the week, (don't worry: if they don't publish it, I will!)
Washing cauliflower for Zora to give the old roasting/garam masala treatment, and consulting with Peter The Egg Whisperer about the semi-hard boiled eggs: 7 minutes, 20 seconds (exactly) for dead in between soft and hard boiled.
The little eggs were peeled, chilled, cut in half, and topped with a fantastic herb pesto (pureed basil, chives, sage, parsley , capers, and just enough olive oil to hold the whole business together), and diced anchovies, a la the dish I ate at Anchovies and Olives in Seattle. Ps-- after eating these little gems, I will never make a devilled egg again. These kick devilled eggs' asses down the block!
The beets got topped with aioli, (sitting on their blanched tops, of course), there was a teeny bit of arugula left over from my gig the night before so we tossed it with salt, lemon and olive oil and poof! It was salad.
And... Pickled Tomatoes. When Zora and I worked at Prune together (it seems a million years ago) Gabrielle Hamilton was serving roasted suckling pig with pickled tomatoes and aioli. The pickled tomatoes were the perfect foil to the richness of the pig and the aioli. Unfortunately, Zora and I were both, er, released from Prune without either of us having gotten the recipe.
Damn. Strangely enough, though, when our backs were up against the wall, Zora found a virtually identical recipe online through a completely unrelated source... Again, are there really any completely new ideas? When I got to her house and tasted the tomatoes, it was like having been transported back about four years to the Prune tomatoes! I fucking LOVE them. Lightly pickled with ginger, coriander, garlic, olive oil, lemon, hot pepper, and something else... I will be making them all the time, now. They are also delicious on dal with scallions.
Katja Heinemann, another photographer, was also in attendance, shooting for an article about us for Maclean's Magazine in Canada.
She was so kind to include Karl in the pics that they used-- which made his mother, Joan, in Montreal very happy...
All in all, a successful night, though it felt like we wouldn't get to eat any pig until after midnight. Now we know. And now, we have a real mechanical souvla, thanks to Peter! We can enter our forties sitting on our asses, watching the animal go round and round, and occupying ourselves by drinking and telling stories and not worrying about turning the lamb or the pig!!!