I like to cook. Occasionally. Luckily, I’m good at it. Occasionally. See, with me, cooking is about big things. I usually cook for holiday meals and invite folks over or just make a really big pot of something and… invite folks over. Sometimes, just to change things up, I invite people over and THEN cook something.
The primary problem with my cooking is that I can’t cook for two. Fifteen I can do… two, I can’t. For example, I made a bit of chicken and rice for my wife and me the other night. We’ve eaten three meals out of that batch and still have well over two gallons left. For those that can’t get the visual picture, two gallons is a LOT of chicken and rice. You can, easily, feed 10 people with that, twice, and have left overs. Oh well, at least it’s good.
About twice a year we decide that we want to cook a pig. Now, cooking a pig in and of itself is an event but I can’t leave it at that, oh no. Where most people would rent a big pit grill or dig a hole and bury the thing we (read “I”) prefer to hang the pig in front of the fire. The Brazilians cook beef in a similar way by standing upright “spits” in front of the fire but not me. No, when I cook big there’s often engineering involved. Here’s the first pig that I ever cooked along with Mark (his uncles in the backwoods of Louisiana actually taught us how to do it this way (sans the tripod, they hung it from a tree)).
Yeah, that’s right. In order to hang the pig you need something to hang it FROM. Lacking something to hang it from, I “invented” this contraption**. Three twelve foot poles, a bit of dog chain, a “fence stretcher” from the home store, 4″x4″ square fencing, some bailing wire and you’ve got yourself a $25 pig cooker fit for a kings banquet. On later attempts we extended the back pole to be about 10′ longer than the others. Doing this gives us the ability to turn the front two legs into upright/vertical supports and allows adjustment of the heat by moving this third leg (and thus the pig) back and forth… pretty slick if I do say so myself. There are inefficiencies with the process though. It can take up to four times as long to cook a one hundred pound pig this way. The average cook time is about 12 hours. With a closed grill you can finish the same pig in around three hours. The process requires a LOT of wood. We’ve burned as much as a rick (half a cord) of wood cooking one pig where a similar pig took only four 10 pound bags of charcoal on a grill…. a huge difference.
The bonus with the really slow cook time though is that you get insanely tender meat that (literally) falls off of the bone. The last time we cooked a pig in a grill it took nearly two hours of “picking” to get the meat separated from the bone and chopped. With a slow roasted tripod cooked pig you simply cut the wire loose and pull the bones free. There’s no cutting or trimming… nothing. Just tug on a bone and it falls out leaving a pile of steaming pork.
There are, of course, other benefits to using this method. The first and primary benefit is that you have a 15 to 20 foot tall structure in your yard. You also have a huge fire in the yard. It is immediately apparent to anyone that’s shows up that there’s a party going on. No doubts about it… here’s the party and we’re serious about having fun here. We’ve had people driving down the road stop, turn around and come back for a chat about what the hell it is that we think we’re doing. This usually leads to someone posing while a cohort snaps pictures of them with our pendant porcine picnic to prove what the rednecks down the road are doing. No one leaves without a story to tell and the end result is without peer.
Those are for special occasions though. Usually, it’s just a round meal of simple fare. I’m not big on having “courses” with our meals. In fact, if there’s to be anything to eat other than the one or two dishes that I make for a meal then somebody better get a pot. I’m not above serving a platter of roast pork with nothing else. My wife (and anyone else that’s sane) enjoys a nice round meal. I can sometimes get away with it by doing a “one pot wonder” like Gumbo but most of the time my wife gets stuck with making the sides.
People are often very complimentary of my dishes and then upset that I won’t tell them how I did it. They fail to understand that this is usually because I “cheated” in some way. For instance, I make a roast pork tenderloin in mushroom cream sauce with just a hint of onion that is (I’ve been told) divine. People taste it and MUST have the recipe. I’ve considered writing up a very complex set of recipes and then, when things don’t turn out for them, just nod sadly and say, “yeah, it’s hard but it took me many years to perfect that… keep trying.” In truth the roast pork is pretty much just that. Here are all of the ingredients: Pork Loin (obviously), Two cans of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, One packet of Lipton Onion soup mix and… err… that’s it. The instructions are a little more complex: Dump the soup on top of the pork. Sprinkle the soup mix over it, smear it all around and wrap the whole thing in foil. Bake at 275 for 3 hours while you wander around the kitchen banging pans together for good effect. Once it’s done, dump the whole mess into a casserole serving dish and present it carefully to the table. All of my dishes tend to be like this. When people rave over the chicken soup and ask what’s in it I can just evasively say, “chicken soup” without ever mentioning the fine folks over at Campbell’s.
The one exception to this is my Banana Pudding which is made according to the “OLD” Nabisco recipe which was made from scratch. Hours of slowing stirring real cream over a double boiler and then carefully layering the bananas with nilla wafers and pudding and then topping it with home made meringue makes a real difference in the taste. People often smirk at all of the work that goes into it and then later exclaim that ones they make with instant pudding aren’t nearly as good. I just nod sadly and say, “yeah, it’s hard but it took me many years to perfect that… keep trying.”
Here’s one more picture. The pig isn’t really burned… it’s just wierd lighting:
** Yes, it’s really hard to claim that you’re the inventor of the tripod and get away with it… I did