Wednesday | December 13, 2017
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Let’s Talk Food: China box roasting

We have been to several parties recently where the main ingredients — belly pork, pork butts and a whole suckling pig — were roasted in a China box. Needless to say, my curious culinary mind wondered where the China box originated. So I asked my son, Dean, who is a walking encyclopedia (today it is Google search) of information, who told me if I looked at the label, La Caja China actually had a Spanish origin and might have started in Cuba. Dean was right, as the first China box was a wooden box used by Chinese rail workers in Cuba in the 1850s, when there were more than 150,000 there.

CEO of La Caja China Roberto Guerra’s father was making deliveries for his business in 1955 in Havana and saw Chinese roasting a pig.

“Basically, it was a box with metal on top with the charcoal. So he went over to find out what was going on. They explained it to him. He tasted, he loved it and he left. Then 30 years later, in 1985, he mentioned it to us.”

Guerra and his father started making a prototype and tested it, naming it after the neighborhood where he first saw it. At that time, Guerra owned an export business and didn’t really believe in the product he helped his father create.

He thought it would be a passing hobby for his father and not amount to anything.

Everything changed in 2003 when a Miami chef asked Guerra to borrow five China boxes for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Foodies and chefs from throughout the country were in attendance and the chef insisted Guerra attend.

“When I got there,” Guerra says, “there was a whole bunch of famous chefs waiting in line just to talk to me about how good the box was. And that’s the time and the day I realized that I had something good. What followed was an article in The New York Times about La Caja China, then TV appearances with Bobby Flay, Al Roker and Martha Stewart. That all made the China Box famous!”

On Christmas Eve throughout South Florida and the rest of the country, Latinos are roasting pigs in a China box. It is “Noche Buena” and a time for family to gather, often to eat roasted pig. The preferred method of roasting the pig is the China box.

In the Miami area, Cubans drive to Matadero Cabrera. “Matadero” is Spanish for “slaughterhouse.” They season the pig the night before, then on Christmas Eve, place the pig in the China box for four hours before dinnertime. Their dinner includes the roasted pig, black beans and rice and bread.

The men love it because once you have your charcoals ready, you just sit there and watch the box. The pig starts being cooked meat-side up. When the pig is almost done, just flip it over and score the skin. Brushing it with salt water will make the skin crunchy. When done, the pork is either chopped or pulled or just picked off whole by the guests.

The La Caja China box is made of wood with a metal liner, a grate to hold a whole or half pig and a metal tray to suspend over the pig to contain about 16 pounds of charcoal. A lid is placed on top, sealing the heat. The cooking time is reduced by almost half and the result is moist, tender meat with crackling smoky skin.

You can brine the pig overnight in the metal box, drain it the next day and roast it, or use this marinade from the La Caja China website.

Mojo Criollo Marinade

1 cup sour orange juice

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon bay leaves

1 garlic head

1 teaspoon ground cumin

4 teaspoons salt

4 ounces water

4 ounces pineapple juice

(You can substitute the sour orange with 6 ounces orange juice and 2 ounces lemon juice.)

Multiply this recipe by four to give you enough marinade for a whole pig and have extra for a dipping sauce. Mix the drippings of the pig and mojo mix, half each to create gravy to pour over the meat.

Instructions for injecting the mojo:

Strain the mojo by dumping the solids from the strainer into the rib cage of the pig, inject the liquid into the meat using a syringe, inject five to six full shots on each rear leg and four to five times on the shoulders. Apply salt and adobo all over the pig (salt rub) using your hand. This is best if done the night before.

Blend all ingredients and let it sit for a minimum of 1 hour, strain and inject. We recommend marinading the pig overnight. After injecting the pig with the Caja China Brine, apply a salt rub all over the pig; we highly recommend using Kosher or sea salt.

Prices for the La Caja China box range from $369 up to $1,299, depending on the types of materials used. An inexpensive model is available at Ace Hardware, selling for $429.99.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

 

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