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Porch & Parish

Cochon de Lait Without the Delay

Feb 22, 2024 11:50AM ● By Jen Gennaro

A $350 Cajun microwave and a dealer of feral hogs made for a very memorable Christmas break.

Cochon de lait is a well-loved Louisiana culinary tradition; yet, for most backyard chefs, the process remains cloaked in mystery. To become a backyard hero, one must obtain a suckling pig of just the right weight, navigate the costs and hassle of cooking set up, and assemble a pit crew of dedicated helpers to pull off the final product: a perfectly prepared pulled pork paired with its own flavorful gravy. The traditional process involves pit roasting a pig for hours over an open flame. I vividly remember St. Edward’s annual cochon de lait parish fundraiser in Metairie when I was growing up. Racks of pigs lined the perimeter of the property, the ferris wheel lit up the October night sky, and the entire city was filled with the mouthwatering scent of smoked meat. Years later, I learned how much easier a pig roast could be with the help of a trusty “Cajun microwave.” Drunk with the power of my P&P story budget, I decided it was high time to create my own backyard tradition. I bought the roaster and assembled a dream team to help. The following positions must be locked in to ensure success: Supplier, Chef, Sous Chef, Coal Man, and Clean Up Crew. My crew convened via group chat a week before the roast and assigned jobs. A whole pig from a butcher, cleaned and ready to cook would have cost $4.29/lb at the time of this writing, so I turned to my Supplier, Stephen Mayronne. Having leveraged his many hunting connections, he procured a feral hog, captured with the corral method.

“Hey man, I got that hog in the back of my truck. They skint it and took its head off. Hope that’s OK,” he said. I imagined my perfect hog would have its head on, with crispy crackling skin and an apple in its mouth, and I wasn’t sure if the animal I was cooking was a suckling pig or a labradoodle. I weighed it on my wife’s bathroom scale, by first weighing myself then gingerly stepping on the scale with the beast – a perfect 40lbs. Beginner Tip: Stick with a hog between 40-80 pounds, max. I prepared a brine consisting of five gallons of apple cider, one cylinder of Morton’s salt, rosemary, citrus, and bay leaf. Mike Fontenot, my sous-chef, injected it with Louisiana Cajun Butter, and we let it brine for the next 36 hours. I spent the next two and a half days thinking about taking the pig off the roaster box and seeing the crowd go wild. Failure was still a real possibility. My Cajun caja order arrived, and my crew was seriously doubting the simple directions, printed on gridlines on the side of the plywood box: “Add 8 lbs of coal every one hour for the first three hours, flip hog at hour 3 and roast for 30 more minutes to crisp skin.” I chose the BC Classics Bene Casa Caja Asadora Large Pit for $350 on Amazon. As advertised, this product allows a chef to cook up to a 100 pound pig, 16-18 whole chickens, 8-10 pork rib slabs, or whatever the creative Cajun mind might see fit to roast.

Best described as a stainless-steel cooking area enclosed in a plywood box, the apparatus is held up by two legs at the front and two wheels on the back with two cart-style extensions for mobility. There’s a stainless steel lid and an expanded metal grate that sits on top of the roaster box and holds the charcoal. That’s it. Neighborhood friends and passersby trickled in the day of the roast, being forewarned of the rookie chef at the helm. The hog was placed on the cooking rack, ribs up. One hour passed, eight pounds of hardwood coal, two hours and eight pounds, three hours, then flip—voila! I nervously slipped my shiny red meat claws onto my cold hands, and as the winter mist sprayed me and my guests, that ham hock ripped up like melted butter. Success! My wingmen helped me hoist the squealer up to the table, and we made busy pulling pork while the guests loaded up their French bread to make what can only be described as the Lord’s po’boy – shredded lettuce, mayo, pickles and chips. Beginner Tip: Ribs up! Ribs down on the first three hours will result in multiple hours of delay in cook time. The next day, my pig dealer Stephen called. “Man, I got two more hogs in the back of my truck, this time you gotta gut and shave ‘em.” “Stephen, are you kidding me?” I replied. “You’re the hog man now,” he said.

I’m the hog man, I repeated to myself. At least this time the hog’s head was on and I could work on my cracklin’ skills with the skin on. The hog man approached the task with a renewed spirit. We gutted the hogs in the front yard of Stephen’s home in Americana – definitely an HOA violation. My oldest son Max and I worked late into the night to prep our next two hogs for what would be another three-day brine and then Bacchanalian all-day holiday meat festival.