by Kate Heyhoe
Memorial Day is a traditional time of picnics and barbecues, a celebration of early summer, when families congregate and kids run wild. As a kid, I often spent such times with my cousins and their folks. Uncle Frank and Auntie Eva had lovely rose bushes all through the front yard of their modest house in L.A.'s Crescent Heights. My cousin Shelly and I would pretend we were at a luau and carefully string the rose petals with a needle and thread to make leis. Of course, we ended up with about 2 feet of string and 1 inch of petals, but that was OK. It was our fun and our play-time fantasy.
Recently, I was introduced to a charming new book called The Mainland Luau: How to Capture the Flavor of Hawaii in Your Own Backyard, by Patricia L. Fry. A slender 80 pages, this simple book is packed with hard to find information including "8 Methods of Roasting a Whole Pig."
If you have never tasted meat from a roast pig, you are in for a treat. It practically falls from the bones. But be advised, you need a fair amount of guests for a whole roasted pig, which is why it is perfect for a grand Memorial Day cookout.
Of course, putting the whole thing together is a little more complicated than slapping a few burgers on the grill. First, you gotta get a pig. The author meets this initial hurdle head on. If your local butcher can't order one for you, you can check the Yellow Pages under livestock, ask the feed store owner to recommend a local pig rancher, order a USDA inspected pig by mail or get a corn-fed one shipped directly from a company in Iowa (the book includes sources for these).
OK, so now ya gotta pig. What next? If the porker came skin-on (the tastiest way according to some) you'll need to have the hair removed. This may be easier said than done, so the author recommends buying the pig from a professional supplier already de-haired, which can help prevent you from tearing out your own hair.
If you have ever been to a 4H Club show, you will realize that piggies come in all sizes. A suckling pig, small enough to fit into a large oven or barbecue, weighs in at 10 to 12 pounds and feeds approximately 7 to 10 people. To calculate the size pig you need, figure one-third of the weight is lost to the dressing process, then allow 1 pound of meat per person. So a 100 pound porker would feed about 65 persons, about the size of many family reunions or church gatherings. A 200 pound beast would satisfy a small rural community.
Now the fun begins. The Mainland Luau explains clearly and concisely eight ways to roast your pig. Which is best for you? Take your pick from these methods:
The traditional luau's underground pit relies on a good size piece of real estate you must be willing to churn under without fear of sacrificing the lawn. If this appeals to you, or if any of the more elaborate techniques are what you are looking for, we recommend you buy the book to follow the instructions therein (at a reasonable $8, it is hard to pass up). If you do have the territory for it, making a pit is certainly worth the effort when you consider the luscious flavor of a whole roast pig and the huge number of mouths it can feed.
For those of you who would prefer not to totally destroy your landscaping, you can follow the Above the Ground Pit Barbecue instructions, which requires only partial submersion of the bricks into the ground. You will need to start a 200 pound pig the night before, as it takes some 18 hours to cook. This may also require some close friends to join you, in ever vigilant shifts, tending the fire and turning the pig. The next afternoon, the pig itself becomes the centerpiece, and the author suggests covering a picnic table with foil and surrounding the pig with pineapple and tropical fruit slices. Recommendations for cutting techniques which keep the meat warm and moist longer are also included.
Of course, no luau is complete without the proper atmosphere, and the author includes a lexicon of Hawaiian words and pronunciations, including "Okole maluna," which loosely translated means "bottoms up." She aptly gives tips on everything from hula dancing and creating island attire to table decorations of banana leaves and palm fronds, and even the stringing of flower leis. It takes some 30 to 60 blossoms for one lei, which would have sent my cousin Shelly and I dreamily into true paradise.
So this Memorial Day, start your planning early: order the pig, pick up some cinder blocks and wire mesh, gather some foliage from the neighborhood and invite everyone to pig-out. The Mainland Luau is not a fancy tome, but its simple suggestions offer a world of exotic inspirations for cooking up a festive gathering, even for a Haole on the mainland.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified April 2007
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