Christmas Eve has always been the most special day of the year for me. Memories from my childhood include Noche Buena dinner parties full of family and friends dressed very nicely and a house permeated with the smells of a Cuban kitchen. Sometimes ham, sometimes pork, always black beans and rice, yuca, some vegetables, desserts, and lots of booze. A joyous occasion that usually ended with bodies laid out on the floor in front of the tree or by the fire, watching snowflakes fall and telling stories of adventures past.
Since becoming a father, it has been a priority for me to try my best to recreate the memorable experience for my kids that was my own warm memory of Christmas Eve.
Noche Buena 2008 from Mario Aquino on Vimeo.
We had prepared for a dinner party to seat 11 adults and 2 kids. The pig was so late in being ready to eat that the Noche Buena dinner was effectively ruined. All our guests had gone home with little more than hors d'oeuvres and some wine in their bellies. Despite all our efforts, there is no rushing a pig in a Caja China in December in St. Louis. At times I felt like Icarus... at times, like Captain Ahab. The regret was palpable and the expense of the day, substantial.
My opinion of the Caja China is that it is an extremely inefficient apparatus for roasting pigs. As you can see from the video, the heat source is above the meat, which lies in a metal-lined plywood box. This guarantees that the meat will be cooked slowly. However, the documentation for the Caja China says that a pig should take between 3 & 4 hours to cook, but our experience was that it took over 10 hours to cook the pig. Perhaps in Miami, where the temperature usually stays above 65 °F, the cook-time for a pig stays within the 3 - 4 hour window. Sadly, that was not our experience.