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Cuban

A Pork Feast Bbq - From First Principles.

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I think this post is best suited to this forum rather than Thai Food - as it relates more to the process than the cooking.

A few weeks ago as the start of Buddhist Lent (Kao Pansar) approached my wife and I discussed holding a family party/BBQ as various branches of the extended family would be travelling back here to the village. Going through the numbers and also looking to invite a few of my own friends it was clear that we would need a large amount of food for both the party night and the days either side, so the option of getting a whole pig seemed sensible. It just so happened that a relative was looking to sell one of the four pigs that they had raised over the last two years.

The pigs had originally been bought with the intention breeding and selling on piglets but I assume that poor grade food or a non-functional bore had lead them to become being kept as little more than assistant waste food disposal to the chickens who at least produce eggs and meat to earn their keep. The pigs are something of a millstone for a small family stock holding that are consuming probably on balance what they are worth at market. From the figures I was given they are not profitable as they have been kept over the two years, even if you put a low figure on the cost per hour of dealing with them, but that is a whole different story.

A price of 3,500 Baht was agreed, with the live-weight being about 65-70kg I was paying slightly under current market wholesale rates for a one off, I was happy with that. The family where happy that a sale had been made and were assured to enjoy some of the meat as well. My wife reeled off a list of people that she would like to give a cut to for different reasons and this turned out well. My stipulation was that I got the ribs and a leg to play with and the dogs got the bones, with the remaining component parts of the pig each having an assigned destination we looked forward to the coming holiday.

With the rough plan being that we would be having the BBQ on Monday or Tuesday of the long holiday weekend, I thought that arranging the slaughter for the Friday or Saturday would be best to allow transport to a wherever does the killing. And then the rough butchering into larger cuts. I had said that would be very interested in following the pig through the slaughter process locally, I was aware that one place was about 20Km away. I expected that various fees would either be charged for the transport and processing of a one off pig and that there would probably be a levy of a percentage of the meat or the offal etc. I had not expected what finally happened.

As the weekend approached without any mention of the collection day or time I was starting to question if this event would happen at all, but on Saturday almost casually, my wife said that tomorrow a local man would carry out the slaughter and butchering. To summarise the information exchange that resulted from my afternoon of questions to her and "Lair", village rules said that no animal was allowed to be killed within the village boundary: So the killing would have to take place in one of the fields that extend from the back of the houses. I reminded them while pointing at the water that each field was waterlogged and even the driest was freshly ploughed ready for the new rice crop to go in. Would he use a tree to hang the pig after killing or construct a hoist? Where would he cut up and section the pig? Where would we put the bits? Even pooling all the family and friends fridges in the village I doubt that there would be enough chilled storage for 65kg of meat for three days. My final question was; Has he done this before?

Sunday at 2pm was the time set for the pig to take it's first step en-route to the BBQ grill, I charged my camera's battery and dressed down for the event - just shorts. 3pm came and went and at 4pm I reminded my wife that it gets dark at 7pm, "..I don't want to be doing this in the dark.." appear to be my famous last words. My dogs missed their 5pm walk as I waited around the house just in case. But it was about 18:40 (after sunset?) that Lair reappeared on his motorbike with a couple of home-made knives, they were extremely sharp and were clearly made for one purpose. One of my earlier questions was how would he actually kill the pig, and the hammer that he showed in his hand at the time (he was hammering nails while doing some building work) I assumed meant he had a large hammer for this. So I wasn't too surprised that the same claw hammer was in his hand now as we approached the pigpen.

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There are four of us: 'Nung' my wife's brother, 'A' husband of a niece, 'Lair' and myself. Armed with some rope we attempt to secure the target pig and fend off the three other irritated pigs that shared the pen with bamboo poles, with the squealing it got quite noisy for about 15 minutes, in a different setting it would have been slapstick.

Finally the pig is restrained against the side of the pen's fence with rope forming a harness about it's mid-section and a second line tied around one of the hind legs. It's not happy but it's stopped whining so much. Nung now stands back from the pen alongside 'A' whom is holding a large empty bowl, I'm still by the head of the pig taking pictures. Lair's arm raises and takes a couple of semi practice jerks towards the pig's head like a hesitant golfer. I had wondered if Lair's delay from 2pm to now was getting cold feet or time spent gaining 'Dutch courage' but he was sober as that first hammer blow struck clearly and firmly on the pig's forehead.

This was a much louder and pain felt long squeal that the pig emitted as it struggled against the rope preventing escape and failed to succumb to the force of the hammer blow. Lair struck again, again the pig squealed in pain at the assault. I lost count, but the pig finally slumped down somewhere between 10 and 15 full force blows of a hammer. I recall laughing at one point at the horror that this assault on the pig was not killing it just upsetting it and angering the others. I later heard that my wife and other family members made themselves scarce just before this all took place, few wanted to have any part if the messy side of the whole affair.

I can think of a few ways to kill a pig of this size without any of the captive bolt guns of European slaughter houses using a little bit of forward planning but this is rural Thailand and I write this experience up for those that might wonder what the process is used probably every day somewhere in Issan.

With the twitching pig on it's side, the gate of the pen was released and we dragged the body out fending back the three remaining pigs with large sticks as the gate was locked again. Holding the pig up from it's hind legs tied together hung from a bamboo staff, Lair used his smaller knife to locate the artery under the front left leg and punctured though to the heart. 'A' collected a lot of blood as it flowed from the opening in the limp but heavy body. I guess that the cause of death was the knife in the heart rather than being beaten to death with a hammer as the final shudder took place here. It was too dark to see if the pig was still breathing as we hauled it body from the pen.

Now laid out on thick lino sheeting the gallons of hot water that had been prepared were brought over and poured onto the pig's hairy dark brown corpse, although not a Wild Hog it is a rough cousin of the nice pink bald pigs that are seen on pickup trucks everyday in Thailand. After a few moments soaking, the hair and top layer of skin is shaved away from the pig with sharper 'normal' kitchen knives. I found scraping against the grain most effective. After turning the body a few times to get almost all the hair off we switched to single use barber type razor blades for those difficult to shave places. With the hot water and nicks in the fatty skin there was a smell of pork soup in the cool night air. It had become fully dark while we were still bleeding the pig so a single lamp on an extension lead had been set up supported in a coconut tree looking over the operating table laid out in the garden. With the blood, dirt and hair washed off the lino sheet was cleaned and the pig laid on it's back to be cut up.

One of the family arrival's earlier in the afternoon was another brother in law from a nearby city police force, I knew he carried his gun with him and had asked him earlier in the day if we could use it to dispatch the pig. I know it was not something as simple as the cost of a bullet as a little later he fired a round off into the field behind the house, it was dark so even if someone or something had been in the path of his bullet we wouldn't have found the body to morning, so I guess he was lucky again.

The process for turning the pig into cuts of meat was quite straight forward, the belly was removed as one fat slab with the cut starting around the bottom of the ribcage up across and down between the legs. The heart, lungs and offal were cut from the stomach and intestines which were then in turn hinged out and left in place until the rear legs were removed. Front legs removed and head cut off, at that point the ears were cut off and flattened out and sent straight to the BBQ. Rear legs removed followed by the rib cage leaving only the backbone, cut into sections Lair held each aloft and called out the names of my dogs. I took a few choice cuts to them (waiting chained at the back of the other house nearby) a little later, they like fresh pig very much, as they ate the meat was still warm.

Last to be processed was the intestines, clearly the most unpleasant phase of all, using a low-pressure hose of water to wash the shit from the flesh. I had had visions of using the casings to experiment with sausage making but I'm glad I didn't, I've had enough to do with the main cuts of meat and bones. Similarly with the blood I had wanted to have a go at blood sausage but handling a whole pig in a amateur if not Lord Of The Flies way it was enough to do what I did to ensure that the meat that I was going to be responsible for storing and later cooking was kept clean from cross contamination and at a temperature that did something to maintain it until the following day.

Within two hours of starting we were gathered around the BBQ cooking up various cuts of pig, others had put sections of the pig's face straight onto the grill, I salvaged some and cooked it Chinese style: long and slow on the gas cooker in water with some sugar and soy sauce. It was very tender and tasty. The dogs have enjoyed many off cuts and the bones as well as the backbone cut into sections.

For the Thai food dishes that I followed, most of the meat was chopped finely and either eaten as raw Larb or similar. My wife made her now signature curry with coconut and pumpkin using the loin, I cooked the ribs. Again long and slow this time with garlic and honey.

The main event went well I think, so busy with food, drinks and people it was only in the early hours of the next day while tidying up a little before bed that I realised I had not set up the strings of lights that I has bought especially for the evening. Also music that had been sorted out was forgotten and not really missed as conversation, food and drink filled the evening.

Things that went well were the pork dishes, three other Thai Visa members said that the curry was brilliant. Personally I think the ribs were a little over cooked and I know that the sauce was a bit lacking. Of the sweet dishes, the pancakes in particular my durian pancakes were well received both during the evening and the next day. The stuffed banana leaf 'cakes' of sticky rice, banana with sugar and coconut were just OK - I had substituted the normal peanuts for roasted cashew nuts hoping for an improved result but I don't think that was a success.

Where I went wrong was allowing others to manage the distribution of drinks, beer mostly. Earlier my wife and I had carved up the drinks that I had bought. Earmarking those that I expected to be there when I wanted them for 'my' friends and the rest could be shared among the family and hangers-on and their children that magically appear during such evenings. In future I think the only solution is to keep some things under lock and key. I've been through this process a few times now and extending trust and playing fair does not in my experience work.

After the beers we switched to the focus of the evening's drinks menu which was to be the pursuit of the perfect Mohito. Sadly this was hampered by the lack of sugar cane juice but a coconut water and rum mixture created something akin to a Baileys, Malibu & Whiskey cocktail that rounded the evening perfectly.

Two days after the event now (this was written last week) and I had the last of the curry for breakfast, both the dogs and I are looking a bit full around the waist and only capable of resting during the day. I've made some notes for next year but would welcome anyone else’s practical experiences relating to these large family BBQ evenings.

The attached gif animation (2 meg) below contains a full series of images, from hammer to grill, if I find time this week I might create a better version - I had to use a quick and clumsy image editor to make that file.

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Great story I have been there, done that. u wrote in my opinion an excellent report.

Thanks I really did enjoy reading it, do u have any objections of me passing it along to friends with your name.

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Great story I have been there, done that. u wrote in my opinion an excellent report.

Thanks I really did enjoy reading it, do u have any objections of me passing it along to friends with your name.

Good story Cuban,call it as you see it,I haven't seen it but now I know what t expect.

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Great story, thanks.

What do you think was the real reason about for him not letting you use his pistol?

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Who'd be a carnivore?! Me for one but I make myself scarce when my wife's family is about to kill a pig. In similar vein I found myself flicking quickly through your write-up, excellent though it is.

It's much more difficult living in Isaan avoiding the reality of meat, but I still prefer to go to the market and shop among the blood and guts than to buy the rather unappealing grey stuff in supermarket packaging.

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Instead of the hammer, I've seen what looked like a long ice pick used to dispatch the pig by stabbing it in the heart. This was also accompanied by a lot of squealing and far from a lot of fun for the animal. As you say, I don't know why they can't do it more humanely.

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I asked a friend about this. She says in her experience, in Isaan a hammer is usually used for a cow or buffalo, and that a knife is used on a pig. In her view the reason is that the head of a pig is somewhat protected by the way it adjoins the neck. (But I wonder it also may have to do with the bone structure.)

I'll try to get her to comment here but her English isn't that super great.

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Brilliant account there Cuban.

Next time use a bigger hammer.

I once witnessed a French butcher kill a pig. 2 strikes on the head with a large plastic meat tenderizer and a quick cut into the neck and artery. ('And <deleted> EU regs) It was over in under a minute.

The usual way of despatching a pig in Issan is "sticking". Pig goes into pig-cage, (or hog tied) settles down, Quick stab between ribs into heart, pig squeals for about 5 or 10 seconds, settles down again, bleeds to death (internally) over the next 10 or so minutes. After scraping, the carcase is opened up on it's back and blood scooped out with a bowl.

When's your next one? :) I'll bring the beer and the appetite.

Regards.

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Thanks for the fantastic write up. I've always been curious about how they did it up there.

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