Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Notorious P.I.G. [Pork Is Good]

This past Sunday was the P.I.G. (Pork Is Good) fest by Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog at Harvey's By The Bay, east of Biscayne Boulevard off 64th Street, and a good number of VIPs (Very Important Pigs) turned out for the occasion.

Our group of about 25 took over the bay-windowed back room of Harvey's for the afternoon, when we weren't outside monitoring the progress of the whole boned-out piglet cooking away in Chef Jeremiah's new-fangled high-tech caja china. While the pig roasted, we were given samples of a number of his other pork-centric creations. The underlying theme was to revel in all the glories of the porcine, with dishes created from just about every part of the pig. Belly, butt, skin, and trotter were all well represented (I saw a headcheese, too, though I didn't see where it ended up). Some of the dishes may be previews for the menu of the gastroPOD, a shiny Airstream trailer Jeremiah is retrofitting with a high-tech kitchen to bring mobile cuisine to Miami.

Sadly my camera batteries died about midway through so I don't have pictures of everything, but I did get to taste it all and there's some other good recaps at Tinkering With Dinner and Jean-Marc's blog. All my pictures are now up on flickr.

Chef started us off with some nice chicharrones, dried and fried pork skin cracklings, crispy with just a little hint of chew to them, along with a little moonshine-black cherry soda, frothed on the spot in an iSi canister.

Chef Jeremiah
Next round was some southern-style char siu bao, a nice cross-cultural mashup which took the fluffy, dense dough of the traditional Chinese steamed dumpling, but instead of filling it with the typical Chinese "bbq" pork (with its sweet sticky glaze), these were filled with rough-chopped smoked dry-rubbed pork butt.

char siu bao
If they were a little dry for you, you could dose them with a little dropper of shoyu. Chef also kept out on the table some sriracha sauce (a/k/a "ketchup" he said, and I agree) if that was more to your tastes. These were good, and I thought the East Meets South thing worked well. I would have liked to have seen it carried even further, maybe with a BBQ sauce variation instead of the shoyu (something strongly vinegar-based may have hit the spot).

char siu bao closeup
No pix of the next few items, so we'll have to rely on my meager descriptive powers (and the pictures taken by other VIPs). For whatever reason, Chef's panini press was the final straw that tapped out all the available power in Harvey's back room, and so there was a brief struggle to find a working outlet to finish the next course. When that glitch was overcome, Chef Jeremiah handed out some pressed Cuban sandwiches filled with sliced pork belly, home-made pickles and spread with Dijon mustard. I liked the tender pork belly, all slippery and soft rather than crisped up (more in an Asian style).

Next up were some trotter tacos, done with Vietnamese banh mi flavors in another cross-cultural mashup. This may have been my favorite dish of the day, the chopped trotter meat tender, crispy on the edges, and loaded with deep porky flavor, the corn tortilla giving a bit of crunch, and the lightly pickled julienned carrot and daikon (and another hit of sriracha, natch) brightening up all the flavors. This item may be making its way on to the gastroPOD menu, and it ought to.

The final item before the whole pig was carved was a plump, 100% pork home-made hot dog (like a Bizarro Hebrew National kosher frank). Topped with some pungent pickled red onions, I really enjoyed the nice snap to these dogs.

While all these samples were being cooked up and passed around, a whole pig was roasting away outside. The pig, about a 50-pounder procured from a farm / slaughterhouse in Hialeah, started the day like this:

pig parts
Chef Jeremiah completely boned out the pig, rolled and tied it, and gave it a marinade in a traditional Cuban mojo (sour orange, oregano, garlic). Then it was put into this new-fangled caja china:

caja china
The "Chinese box" is a traditional Cuban way of cooking a whole pig. The old-school (ghetto) ones I've seen before involved a cinder block "oven" into which the pig is placed, and then a metal sheet is laid over the top onto which the hot coals are shoveled, with the pig cooked by the radiant heat. Chef Jeremiah's contraption had the coals in the bottom of the box, with the pig suspended on a rack above them and then the whole assembly covered to contain the heat.

cooked pig
The pig was fully cooked in a few hours, with crispy golden-brown skin and meat that was still juicy and redolent of garlic. The technique of deboning and rolling the pig makes for a slightly less dramatic presentation (no smiling pig-face to stare you down) but ensures a good cross-section (literally) of crispy skin and meat from a few different muscles in every portion. Chef accompanied the roast pork with a sweet potato flan loaded with cinnamon and tweaked with a sprinkle of coarse black smoked salt.

The festivities continued with more pork and some live music, but I have to confess I took off to rest my pig-stuffed belly.

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