Friday, August 9, 2013

Tavolo, Porchetta & La Caja China

Roasting a pig at home seems like a lot of work. It brings to mind a large spit, over a fiery grill, where the pig is carefully rotated for many hours. However, it doesn't have to be that difficult, not if you own a La Caja China roasting box. It mainly takes time and patience.

The “Caja China”, a Spanish term for “Chinese box,” has a murky origin, some saying it in began with Chinese immigrants to Cuba. However, we can trace the origin of La Caja China, which is a brand name for one of the most popular types of these roasting boxes. Roberto Guerra, a Cuban living in South Florida, heard stories from his father about a roasting box in Havana's Chinatown during the 1950s. Roberto took that idea and in 1987, started selling La Caja China. The roasting box is roughly six feet long, generally composed of wood and steel, with a place for charcoals atop the box. The meat is placed inside the box and the heat from the top does all the work.

Recently, Chef-Owner Chris Douglass (of Ashmont Grill and Tavolo) and Chef de Cuisine Nuno Alves (of Tavolo) took delivery of a La Caja China roasting box and their first foray was to roast a pig, to make a Ligurian Porchetta. They purchased a 212-lb., nine month old, Berkshire pig from Brambly Farms in Norfolk. After some butchering, Nuno assembled the porchetta, placed it into the roasting box and let it cook, with minimal attention needed. This is only their first endeavor with La Caja China, and in the future, they may use the box to roast turkeys, cook lobsters, roast lamb or other items. It is a versatile item and between the two restaurants, I am sure it will see much work.

Roughly half way through the cooking cycle, I got to check out the work in progress, in the parking lot of Ashmont Grill. That is Chef Nuno above, checking on the porchetta.

An inside view of the two, long porchetta roasts in the box.

A close-up of one of the porchetta ends, with the stuffing visible.

This shows the skin browning on one of the porchetta roasts, which will soon enough become a delectable, crispy treat.

For Tavolo’s Porchetta Festival, customers could order a three course Ligurian meal for only $25, with optional wine pairings. An excellent bargain on a Wednesday evening. And the restaurant was very busy that night, and it seemed that many of the guests ordered the porchetta. I was invited as a media guest, and sampled the same dinner as the other guests.

I began the evening with a Time Travel ($11) cocktail, made from Maker's Mark bourbon, St. Germaine and Aranciata. Bourbon & pork is a good combination. The cocktail was only mildly sweet, with lots of orange and vanilla flavors, and a hint of floral elements. Refreshing, I enjoyed the drink and think it did pair well with pork.

The firs course was Mini Stuff Peppers, with rice, leeks, basil, and fontina cheese. The three different colored peppers made for a nice presentation, and the stuffing was a good blend of flavors, complementing the fresh peppers.

The second course was the Brambly Farms Porchetta, cooked in the La Caja China roasting box, and accompanied by an artichoke salad. Ah, roast pig, what a delight! The skin, easily separating from the fat, was crunchy and flavorful, almost the hardness of some candy. I think the crispy skin is one of the best parts of a roast pig. The rest of the porchetta was delicious too, tender and tasty, with a nice melange of spice notes. The roasting box worked its magic and all those hours of slow cooking worked out quite well.

Dessert was a Ligurian Lemon Cake, with whipped cream and raspberries. It was a light, moist cake and the lemon flavor didn't overwhelm. And after the rich porchetta, this dessert felt right.

I am looking forward to seeing what Tavolo and Ashmont Grill do with La Caja China in the future.

Do you own a La Caja China? If so, what are your thoughts about it?

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