Every year, a large group of our close friends head up to Peay Vineyards for four days of eating, drinking, dancing to live music, and merrymaking. One of the main culinary focuses of the long weekend is the Pig Feast. Two pigs adorn a long table for the Friday afternoon meal. An 85-pound, free-range, organically-fed pig from Clark Family ranch in Tomales Bay is interred on Thursday night after sitting in brine for a few days. The second 65-pound piglet from the same ranch rotates on a spit from early in the morning on Friday until mealtime. We serve the meat shredded on corn tortillas with cilantro, beans, fresh homemade mango salsa and homemade guacamole. The remaining pork finds its way inside pulled pork sandwiches served on Saturday during the Oyster Feast made with a secret homemade bbq sauce FedEx-ed to us in jars from a friend in South Carolina (because he would not share the recipe!)
The following is the preparation for the buried pig. This is adapted from the Luau-style recipe usually cooked on a beach in Hawaii. It produces succulent, moist and delicious pork. It is not as hard as it may look and is a whole lot of fun.
Whole Pig “Luau Style”
This is adapted from Alice Waters’ excellent brine recipe. We heat the water and increase the levels of salt and sugar so we can supersaturate the water to ensure the pig does not spoil in the warm summer heat. You will need to scale this recipe up to be sure the brine covers the entire pig.
2-1/2 gallons cold water
3 cups kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 bay leaves, torn into pieces
1 bunch fresh thyme, or 4 tablespoons dried
1 whole head of garlic, peeled
5 whole cloves
1 tsp cayenne pepper
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
4 juniper berries, crushed
Heat the water in multiple large pots, add all the ingredients and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Place the pig in a clean and sterile trash can or extra large cooler if it fits. Be sure the entire pig is submerged. Keep the lid closed and do not worry about the faint smell that wafts when you peek inside. Lock or cover the lid with heavy rocks so curious animals do not snack before you do.
Next to the bonfire area (within 10 feet) dig a pit at least 3 feet deep that is long and wide enough to contain the pig. Try to make the hole clean of loose dirt and the walls strong enough so they will not collapse. Typical dimensions for an 85 lb pig are 2 1/2 feet wide x 5 feet long.
Gather enough rocks to cover the entire bottom of the pit twice. Ideally they should be river rocks or a hard rock so they do not splinter in the fire. Build a very large bonfire and place the rocks in the fire where you can reach them with a shovel, preferably near the pit. Let the fire burn for a few hours building a bed of very hot coals that heat the rocks. The rocks should glow and spark with heat.
10 bags of Banana Leaves, soak in water in a cooler
1 large piece of burlap large enough to cover the hole. Soak in water in a cooler
Chicken wire fencing sufficient to wrap the entire pig and 1-2 feet longer than the pig
2 heads of garlic, cloves peeled and halved
6 Lemons, quartered
Remove the pig from the brine. Wipe off excess brine. With a sharp narrow-bladed knife puncture the pig and insert garlic cloves all over the body. Stuff the cavity with lemons and extra garlic cloves. Add herbs if interested, I recommend espazote. Roll out the chicken wire and cover with wet banana leaves, at least 2-3 leaves thick. Place the pig on top leaving 6 inches or so of extra room on each end. Insert 2 or 3 small very hot rocks (glowing) in the cavity of the pig. Place another layer of wet banana leaves on top. Roll the chicken wire around the pig and close by bending the loose ends of the wires. You should have a contained package of pig entirely wrapped in wet banana leaves with steam pouring out. Using a long handled shovel (or preferably shovels as this should be done with a collection of merry friends), layer the bottom of the pit with glowing hot rocks. Two people should grab each end of the Pig packet and lower it on top of the hot rocks. Place another layer of hot rocks on top of the pig packet. Cover the hot rocks with the wet burlap (a heavy cotton towel has also worked in a pinch) so it covers the entire pig packet and is curled up on the sides to keep dirt out. Now fill in the hole with the remaining dirt to cover entirely at least a foot deep. You want to trap the steam inside. Place something over the pit so friends do not twist ankles.
The Final Step
The following afternoon-or if you buried the pig in the morning, at least 6-8 hours later-remove the dirt from the hole. When you hit the burlap with your shovel, carefully remove the excess dirt with your hands. The rocks will not be hot, perhaps warm to the touch. You are trying to keep the dirt from leaking around the burlap and on to the pig packet. Remove the burlap carefully. Use a shovel or gloved hands to remove the rocks on top. Two people should lift the pig out of the hole and place on a long piece of plywood. Open up the chicken wire and remove the banana leaves and brush off any dirt. By hand, remove the meat from the bones and fat. Any meat that is dirty place in a separate bowl to be rinsed. The meat should fall off very easily and will be a little hot but very aromatic. Sample the belly meat, the tenderloin, the cheek, the tongue as you pick.
Voila, you have steamed pig prepared Luau style. Enjoy in a taco or however you prefer.