Saturday, May 26, 2012
HALLIE EPHRON: With Memorial Day nearly upon us, my thoughts drift to fond memories of lost friends and great backyard barbecues. Two come to mind: a pig roast and a clam bake.
The pig roast was organized by a dear (and sadly now deceased) friend Gladys Martinez, a Cuban emigre full of life and vitality. She and her cousin from New Jersey dug a pit in her yard and lined it with stones and charcoal and started the fire the night before, setting the alarm to get up every four hours or so and add coals. Her cousin fashioned a grill out of a stolen shopping cart using bolt cutters and wire, and rigged it so it would hang over the fire and could be hand-cranked.
My husband and I were in charge of procuring the pig. We'd found an old-fashioned butcher in Boston's Italian North End that special ordered us a young pig, to Gladys's specifications, and the day before the barbecue off we went on the subway with our 3-year-old daughter Molly in an umbrella stroller (remember those?) to fetch it.
We had no idea the pig would be so big. It was longer and heavier than Molly. We had to bring IT home in the stroller. Bagged in clear plastic, riding in that stroller, it drew LOTS of weirded-out glances from other passengers.
Gladys marinated the pig overnight in her bathtub in oil and garlic and orange juice and achiote (the stuff that makes Spanish rice yellow) and peppers and seasoning. She started cooking it the next morning. Company (including us) arrived in the afternoon.
What a production! But it was so worth it. The pork was fork tender and redolent of garlic and spices. We fought over the crispy bits of skin. Gladys served it with Cuban style Yucca and of course rice and beans. For dessert: a fantastic flan.
The clam bake was in the Rhode Island backyard of the family home of Linda Laubenstein, a college friend who died about ten years ago. Same deal: dig a pit, line it with stones and charcoal. But then, once it was thoroughly heated up and ready for cooking, they lined the pit with a sea-water-soaked tarp. Lined the tarp with heaps and heaps of seaweed dredged from the ocean. Finally piled on the lobsters, clams, and corn and close the tarp, putting some of the hot rocks on top,
It must have taken an hour or more to cook, but what came out tasted like nothing I'd ever had before. All the wonderful tastes of the seafood were melded with sea and smoke. Absolutely delicious, and there'd be no way to duplicate it other than going to all that trouble.
Do you have barbecue memories to share in the run-up to Memorial Day?