Instead of recipes with ethnic flavors for the holidays, we want to share true traditions around big celebrations. Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Latin and Asian American countries, we’ve adopted it in some shape or form here in the U.S. But University of Florida professor, Michael Gannon, insists that a group of Spanish explorers (not Pilgrims) were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving in the New World. And in actuality, Spanish, and not English, was spoken on that day.
“To celebrate the establishment of the colony, they are said to have celebrated mass and shared a Thanksgiving meal of game and squash, and maybe even turkey, with the local Timucuan tribe,” the New York Times reported.
But as much as we want to ‘put a bird on it’, Argentinians and Filipinos much prefer a suckling pig (or lechon), for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The amazing husband and wife team, Richard and Andrea Visconte of Chef Visconte Catering, shows us how to grill a 50 lb. pig on a cross, Argentine-style.
by Chef Richard Visconte
Even though Argentines use mainly salt to season their meats, I like to add flavor to certain meats pig being one of them.
Make a strong brine just 48 hours before grilling. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and throw in fresh chopped garlic, dried oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, salt and pepper for about 2 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate overnight to infuse. The following day, strain through a cheese cloth and use a syringe to inject liquid into the pig. The spices leftover in the cheesecloth can be reused to season the outside of the pig.
Attach pig to the cross with wire after breaking the spine with a cleaver so the pig stays butterflied (see position in next picture).
Argentine and South Americans in general eat their meat medium well. You must cook it slowly in order for the whole beast to cook through without burning it.
For a 50lb pig, it will take 5.5 to 6.5 hours. You will need between 1/3 or 1/4 of a cord of oak wood. The objective is to cook three parts of the animal (legs, ribs and shoulders) and have them ready at the same time without over- or undercooking any of them.
You will need an area of roughly 8 x 8 ft. You need to dig a 6 x 6 ft pit to protect it from the wind, plus extra space to circulate and shovel coals.
Build the fire one hour before you want to start cooking. Once some of the coals are ready, move the cross close to the fire and shovel coals around the bottom legs. Remember you are working with 3 temperatures. The flames of the main fire cook the shoulders and the coals you shovel around the cross cook the bottom legs. Since the heat works like a pyramid, between the main fire and the coals around the legs, the ribs will cook as well. The temperature in that area is lower, which allows for them to be ready at the same time as the thick pieces… without overcooking.
Patience Is a Virtue
The key of that type of cooking is patience. Do not rush. Listen and look at the fire. You want a slow sizzling and slow browning. Check temperatures constantly and move your fire position if the wind changes. Always feed that fire!
Serve with salsa criolla or chimichurri. This will easily feed a hungry mob of 35-50 people.