The history of pig roasts goes back centuries, and every culture has a favorite preparation method using different heat sources and flavoring agents – from Southeast American barbecue, Hawaiian imus and Cajun cochon de lait to Balinese rotisseries, Cantonese char siu and Argentinian lechón al asadores. Most pig roasts are synonymous with social gatherings, whether for family and friends, special events or holidays.
In the Caribbean, the preferred whole-hog cooking method is using a caja China, or “Chinese Box” – a roasting box that delivers succulent pork with crispy, crackling skin. The name “China” actually comes from a common Hispanic Caribbean term that describes something magical, exotic or mysterious. The name is attributed to the “magic” that takes place when the pig goes into the box and stays closed in the box until it is ready to flip and roast again skin side up. The perfectly roasted pig emerges from the box after hours of concealment and is ready to eat.
The box itself is a wooden, rectangular box lines with galvanized or stainless steel. It is raised above the ground by four legs and has a heavy metal lid that fits tightly on the top of the box. The lids will have long handles that allow you to remove the top while covered in hot coals. They often have wheels on one end of the box for ease of setup and transportation.
Using a caja China is a relatively simple process – and one of the faster whole-hog cooking methods. Using a butterflied roaster pig (about 50 pounds dressed), the drawn pig is fixed (skin-side down) between two racks, dropped into an insulated wooden box and covered. The lining and cover are made from galvanized or stainless steel. Coals are placed on the cover and ignited to heat the box to approximately 225 to 250°F. The whole process takes about six to eight hours. Halfway through the process the pig is removed, juices are drained from the chest cavity and reserved for jus, and the pig is flipped and the lid is covered in coals again for even doneness and crispy skin.
The Cuban inspired Puerto Rican specialty is best served between slices of local pan de agua bread topped with roasted meat, pieces of crispy skin, pickled red onion, chilled slices of avocado, a squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of farmer’s cheese and pique (hot sauce).
In Cuba, the pig is marinated in a citrus mojo sauce and served with Cuban bread, black beans and rice, yucca, tostones, and plantonos maduros (fried sweet, ripe plantains). Whether for a private event, off-site catering or dinner series, give the caja China a try.
You can build your own, or purchase one from http://www.lacajachina.com/