Noche Buena Preview

I know it’s a bit early, but i figured I’d give you all a quick heads up on the Noche Buena celebrations this year. Yes, they will once again be held at the Prieto homestead/ManCamp. We’re having the whole family over for the big pig cookout. Steve and I will be making yet another stuffed lechon – if youve never had congris stuffed lechon, then you have never truly eaten.

We’ve got a lot of people coming over for the festivities, so chances are it will be at least a 100-120 lb pig this year. I usually make the porker in the Caja China when it’s that big, but since I want to served a stuffed lechon and that has to be on a spit, I may have to resolver this year’s pig roaster.

While the previous stuffed pigs we’ve roasted have turned out quite well, the size of this year’s pig complicates matters a bit. Ive got to design a system where the pig doesnt burst and spill all of its delicious steamy rice all over the place.

I also dont want to be slave to the pig any more than I have to and dont want to be turning the darned thing every few minutes on the spit so Ill be trying to motorize the whole cooking thing. Should be quite interesting. Ill have more posts to follow and will probably go ahead and blog the whole process if time allows.

I know everyone is probably starving for turkey and fixins tomorrow, but save some room for congris stuffed lechon on Noche Buena. You wont regret it.

21 thoughts on “Noche Buena Preview”

  1. You can keep my turkey tomorrow if you send me a piece of your pig. Men I hate turkey.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all Babalusians!.. and cubans!

  2. Is there a way to “blog” out your delicious creation to us? You are KILLING us…. I am drooling all over my keyboard!!

  3. Cheez Val I second Vic’s motion. Keep the turkey and give me some lechon pleeeeeeeease.
    BTW I had an early turkey feast this monday made by a PuertoRican friend. It was AWESOME, they stuffed the turkey with meat and they seasoned it SO well that it tasted GREAT (i.e. it didn’t taste like the turkey is supposed to).
    Poor Pilgrims, el pastel de calabaza ese esta de madre.
    In previous years we actually had lechon and turkey for Thankgiving but my uncles are getting old and it is just too much work for them.

  4. ***
    Turkey… yeah, right….

    Ya tengo la pierna de puerco en un adobe de mojo y naranja agria….

    Esta noche la pongo en el horno y mañana….

    Ahh… para chuparse los dedos!

  5. val the size of the pig you mention reminds me of a past noche years ago in west palm. a couple of uncles along with my dad and i went out to buy us a hog.we went driving in a late model caddy like the one in the movie goodfellas. into the pine lands we went. we drove over barely crossable little bridges deeper inland till we reached these isolated mini haciendas. we went to acouple looking to make a deal.finally we found one and now it was up to us to go get and ty up hogzilla. this beast was 100 plus easily and when we saw him we were stunned.we had to jump into the large pen and wrestle with this monster fighting and screaming like the devil. it took four men an hour to subdue,tie and throw into the trunk this porker. we then proceded back home w/our prize. when we arrived back at my uncle’s house and opened up the trunck the spent beast had shit all over inside the trunk. we lifted it out amid renewed and unholy wailing and into a holding pen in the yard. it was fattened up for a few days with lots of grub and beer,before it met it’s fate. we then cooked it inground old style. watching it all day drinking beer and tearing off chunks of chicharron with pan y galletas. the anticipation and the size of this lechon are indelibly printed in memory,like the bittersweet orange and nostalgia of noches buenas past. to my ‘uncle’miguel angel jimenes in remembrence,may you be in hog heaven.

  6. Since my family is half Cuban and half-Anglo-mutt we do Noche Buena with a pig and on Christmas day we do turkey. Tomorrow we are doing turkey and on Friday we’re doing a pig. I mean, heck, everyone has the day off anyway. Plus we have all the relatives in town. So … we are taking Thanksgiving gluttony to a new level.

    Now I am totally intrigued on stuffing the lechon. I wonder how it would turn out if one were to stuff the pig with moros, wrap it in banana leaves and throw it in a hot pit … mmmmmm.

    Is there any holiday better than one where you can eat until you lose consciousness? I don’t think so!

  7. Val (and all),
    I can’t stand it anymore. This year I have decided to also “do Noche Buena” and try roasting a pig. However, there are some strange circumstances I would like to run by a few experts there in Florida (or Texas, I suppose). For one, what do you think would be the best possible way of roasting such a pig while the temperature outside is -20 to -35 F (we live in Alaska)? Am thinking of building a concrete block horno (to keep in as much heat with the mass) and maybe an insulated lid of some sort? Any suggestions would greatly be appreciated! Thank you. (Alisa, I too am a cuban-anglo mutt!) And please feel free to pm me with any of your suggestions…

  8. Dan,

    I would take your issue to your local vendor of outdoor grills and barbecues. Get his ideas on how to grill in your ambient temperatures, and give him an idea of the size of what you are grilling.

  9. Thanks for your input RS,
    Will do. I do think though, that the idea up here is to try to keep as much heat from escaping as possible. The concrete blocks will absorb much heat (especially if the cavities are filled with pebbles) and radiate it back to the food, whereas the metal grills will simply let the heat go to the elements. But I will certainly ask.

  10. Hey Dan,

    I thought we were odd being Cubans growing up in California, how’d you end up in Alaska?

    As for your pig issues If you are really, really vigilant with your fire you should be able to maintain the heat quite well regardless of the insulation on your grill. We don’t get quite as cold as you do here in Georgia but we have done pigs at just about freezing temps and they have turned out just fine. Your horno idea sounds awesome too. I totally want to build one for pigs and to bake breads since you can get the temperatures WAY up there.

    You should be sure to have many, many bags of charcoal to feed your fire. That being said, with the outside temperature you should be careful not to expose the pig to too much cold at any given time. You don’t want up and down shifts in temperature. Have a couple people help you to lift the pig, throw on more coal and get it closed up quickly.

    This is what we do … we don’t use the Caja China but a really large BBQ that we rent from an events place. We lay the coals in a ring around the pig as opposed to having the heat hitting the pig directly. We start the pig at about 5AM and maintain the temp in the grill at 195 – 200F. Never above 210 since blood boils at 212F just like water. That makes meat tough. We cook that bad boy until the meat literally falls off the bone. Nobody expects to eat before 10PM.

    Hope this helps. I am off to roast some ducks.

  11. Hi Alisa,
    Ummm…let’s say Uncle Sam sent me here a long time ago (kicking and screaming…I too am from California, Fresno area). But I just love it here now.
    Thanks for your advice too! You brought up a point I haven’t thought about (flipping the pig quickly and getting the lid back on ASAP). Will definitely need the help of some friends (but this time around I’m not going to cook a large pig, maybe even just a leg or something to try it out). But still, to have someone on the lid while the ham is flipped will be invaluable.
    Mil gracias otra vez.

  12. Dan,

    Where in Alaska? I lived in Anchorage back in the 60s. As a matter of fact we were the only Cubans – there was another latino family, a Mexican family who of course were our good friends. (Damn Latinos, we’re everywhere.) I went to Nunaka Valley Elementary. It was beautiful walking to school in the morning across the meadow in two foot snow. We left the year after the earthquake, 9.2 on the richter scale, almost three minutes duration. The largest earthquake in the northern hemisphere. My mom and aunt just freaked out.


  13. Hi Nydia!
    Wow! You were here during the Great Earthquake of 64?!!! That is still talked about a lot. We had a good shaker of 7.2 over 3 years ago, but nothing to compare to Anchorage’s (9.6 I think it was). We live in Fairbanks (on the edge of nowhere, as they say). Anchorage, thankfully, has more of a latino population nowadays. The temperature is much milder there than here where we can see -60 for 3 weeks at a time (a real drag). I have heard there are a few cubans in North Pole, but they are elusive and I haven’t been able to catch up with them. There are a few Bolivians and Mexicans and Filipinos in Fairbanks, but not like the latino population of Anchorage or the Kenai. One Cuban guy, (just off the boat and recently moved from Florida) was my son’s bus driver, but before we could befriend each other, he moved back to Florida. I think my father’s genes (the anglo ones) are the only thing keeping me here! My grandmother (originally from Santiago) thinks I’m absolutely nuts to live in such a cold place. But the fishing is good.
    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

  14. Dan,

    Our Thanksgiving has just ended. The house is a mess. I was telling my aunt and uncle about this blog and your post and asked them what range of mountains was right behing us that was our shadow. I was so young that I didn’t remember, they say it was the Chugach Mountains. I remember us running through the woods and going down to a HUGE lake and hanging out with the other kids, I can’t imagine letting my kids just walk out the door and running wild in the woods and going down to a lake to chill out. It was a wonderful life. Can’t ever forget the Caribou and Mouse that use to come down off the mountains down to our school yard and we would be ushered back into the building, or the fact that we had a skating rink and that’s what we did during recess, we ice skated. Hope your puerco turns our DELICIOUS!


  15. Dan,

    All of the above advice should help quite a bit in your pig endeavor. The most important part is maintaining a steady heat – you dont want too much fluctuation or the pig se pasma.

    I cooked a pig once in about 20 dagree temp and it came out just fine, but at the end, I was more cooked on the Scotch I was drinking to keep myself warm.

    If I may make a few suggestions:

    if youre going to build a pit with blocks, definitely make sure the cells are filled. That helps a lot in maintaining the heat.

    the biggest problem – and I guess especially in the colder temps – is that while your busy tossing in coals to maintain temp, you get a massive accumulation of ashes at the bottom, thus making it difficult to keep coals from generating as much heat as possible. I suggest setting a metal grill at the bottom, about an inch, inch and a half above the box floor. This will let the charcoal burn correctly and allow for the ashes to drop down below it. Now, chances are that the ashes – given the cold temps and the amount of coal youre gonna need to maintain heat – will reach abovethe grille at some point, but that little inch of space helps alot.

    Also, instead of tossing unlit charcoal into the pit to get it lit, set up a small grill or charcoal starter next to the pit and light your charcoal there, that way, when you do open the lid to add charcoal, its already lit and any cooling that occurs while the lid is open will be short lived.

    I might also suggest that you add a strip of metal, maybe about 4″ high along the bottom sides of the pit. This should help reflect the heat into the pit as opposed to allowing the blocks to absorb the brunt of it.

    But, the most important part of roasting the pig is to have good friends and family with you. Have some drinks, some cuban music, some snacks. Its the time you spend with those you love while the lechion gets cooked that matters the most. the meal is just the gravy, as they say.

    if you do decide to do this, please take plenty of pictures and send them on over. Id love to post them here on the blog.

  16. Hi Val,
    Thanks for your wonderful and practical advice! I will most certainly do all that you have advised and especially entertain lots of friends.
    I will take pictures of the contraptions we create, but as for my own mug…well, you may not see much of my face with all the clothing and scarves, etc.! But we’ll see. Perhaps it will warm up a bit by that time.
    Nydia, I will try pm’ing you to give you a take on Anchorage (don’t want to hog up space here). And once again, thank you all for your help. You are very kind.

  17. Val, with your Scotch comment I was reminded of my childhood. When the men would gather to roast a pig the fire would always go out because they would drink too much. Sometimes they would wander off and take naps or start playing dominos and forget their purpose. As a result, to this day, there is a pig vigil. Someone is the designated pig watcher and is allowed only a couple of beers.

    Having had to go to a hotel last night (gave up my room to cousins) I returned home this morning and, sure enough, there were the men sitting around the pig. Instead of Scotch and rum they were drinking coffee. This is a sign that we may be able to eat by 9! I’m not sure that this phenomenon is due to people taking the lechon more seriously or a sign that Dad and the others are getting older and less apt to drink Scotch before noon.

    We can’t be the only irresponsible ones, can we?

  18. Dan,

    Forgive my ignorance, as I’m new to this blogging thing, whatever Pm’ing is, how can I connect with you to make sure you “Pm’ing” with me? I agree, that the best advice is Val’s:

    “But, the most important part of roasting the pig is to have good friends and family with you. Have some drinks, some cuban music, some snacks. Its the time you spend with those you love while the lechion gets cooked that matters the most. the meal is just the gravy…”

    All these comments bring back such memories, as a young girl my grandpa would sit around with the great uncles, drinking (excessively – and all the tias having a shit fit) and roasting that pig. All of us would come around all day long to chat and laugh and share. That’s the most important part. I’m sure Val’s and George’s pig turn out to perfection, but the best part is the BONDING.

    Go for it Dan. Start your own Alaska-Cuban traditions.


  19. Hi Nydia,
    Sorry…I assumed my email address would be included with the message. I am at
    Would be very happy to gab more about La Noche Buena traditions, lechon, Anchorage, etc. Also, if you or anyone else for that matter, know of any Alfaro’s from Cuba…they may be my kin. I dabble in genealogy as well.

  20. Hi! I am also a Cuban growing up in Cali. I am located in Santa Rosa, California and will be celebrating my 28th birthday Cuban-Style by roasting a 80 pound pig. Because I live in Northern Cali, I am having a big problem finding La Caja China for rent and the party is only a week away! Can anyone offer help? I am thinking of just renting a big bbq like this: , but I just feel like it wont be the same! Does anyone live around here that would be willing to rent their La Caja China to me?


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