By Nigel Spence
It is said that China is the world’s largest pork consumer, housing about 476 million pigs, according to the Earth Policy Institute. What I know is if they took stats for Jamaica alone, my Dad, I am positive, would rank as the Island’s largest consumer…ha! I neva see a man love pork suh and of course the apple don’t fall far from the tree.
You know how they say a good reporter has a nose for news – they can smell something about to happen? Well Dad definitely had a nose for a good pork a.k.a. “poke”. No matter where dem cooking a likkle stew poke, if Dad was driving past, you only hear…errrrks! Brakes.
After picking ourselves up from sliding off the back seat, we would watch as he quickly disappeared around some street corner, only to return moments later bearing “gifts” – several parcels wrapped in off-white, butcher paper. As each one was unrolled, an indescribable aroma of seasonings and spices would waft through the car, setting our taste buds on fire. I remember shoving the hot, tender chunks of meat in my mouth and experiencing the most amazing, lip-smacking, stew pork ever! The meat had a gumminess to it with just enough hot pepper to clear your sinuses; the only pairing – a slice of hot hardo bread to sop up the juice. Bwoy, that stew pork was special and as Dad couldn’t resist it, we were fortunate to savor this specialty pretty often.
Then one night, Dad drove us as usual to get his order. As quickly as he disappeared ’round the corner was as quickly as he came back to the car – no parcels in hand and face tight with emotion. Turns out, the man who was cooking the stew pork for all these years, had died suddenly. Unfortunately, the secret recipe was never passed to any of the man’s family members. As a result, the roaring business was now only a whisper of regret with a big “CLOSED” sign. I couldn’t tell if Dad was more in mourning for the death of his stew pork venue or for the cook himself? As for us, it was like losing our inheritance – lol.
Well, Dad was a man who never put all his eggs in one basket and in this case, neither his pork. He had a couple of spots for back up. One such spot was a Chinese restaurant called “Fah Mee”.
Fah Mee Chinese Restaurant, originally located downtown Kingston, had moved uptown. Their stew pork and barbecue pork (Cha Siu – which we nicknamed “the red meat”) were legendary in our family. Every function or event we had at home, be it a wedding, party or family get-together – Fah Mee catering was a given. In addition to the usual fare, a roast suckling pig would occasionally take center stage at the dinner table – the crackling roasted to perfection. Though Fah Mee’s stew pork was a totally different preparation from the deceased cook’s, we ranked it right up there too. The use of Fah Mee for catering was passed from father to kids like an honorary torch.
Our dogs were never left out either. Dad being such a loyal customer, two or three times a week they would call him to collect a few bags of leftovers for dog food, a feature which pleased our dogs immensely; you could tell by the snarls and fights that broke out – among the dogs that is – that never happened when it was turned cornmeal! Ha!
Though we enjoyed other choice meats growing up, pork has always remained No. 1 in our books. How could it not, when your Mom could throw down a roasted pork leg fit for a king and turn simple ham hocks into a culinary work of art. On the other hand, you have a Dad whose penchant for Big Bill* was almost revered when he prepared his famous corned “poke” and green banana. (* Pig trivia: The largest pig to date was a Poland-China hog, named “Big Bill”. It weighed 2,552 pounds. It was 5 feet tall and 9 feet long).
He would start cooking it before he drove us to school in the morning, continue when we returned and finish up in the night when he got home from work. He handled the pot with true reverence and God forbid if anyone should ever mess with it before he was finished. When it was plated, there were chunks of fatty pork layered with a special hot sauce and coupled with green bananas crushed with real butter. Man, those were the days!
Then last, but certainly not least, there was Hong Kong Delicatessen. They were well known for the best-tasting, Cantonese-style, barbecue spareribs but for us it was for something completely different. Here is where I first sampled the most exquisite, Chinese pastry ever! It was snowy white and fluffy with a kind of tear-drop shape. The pastry sat on a square of wax paper and the dough was sticky to the touch. It was kept in an aluminum steamer and always served piping hot. As you bite into the bland, spongy bread, the center would come alive with a delightful blend of sweet and savory meat mixed with ginger and spices; a sensational burst of flavor to complement the bread – this was known as a Sow Bow and Hong Kong Deli was the only place in Jamaica that made these.
Sometimes Dad would stop there after picking us up from school. The cashier was a tiny, aging lady, whose facial creases rivaled the pleats in the sow bow dough. She spoke no English, but kept a lively conversation going in her own language. I was never quite sure whether she was cursing us or thanking us but that was all part of the experience. So you can imagine my dismay on a recent trip back home to find that the business closed for good…lock, stock and sow bows!! Man, I knew exactly how my Dad felt on that fateful night when his stew pork venue crashed…
My mom was no slouch in the pork pit either, what with her entire family being a bunch of swine connoisseurs. Whenever she went about cooking pork, she had the challenge of pleasing some pretty picky and passionate pig people …..and of course she certainly never disappointed. Her roasted pork shoulder was legendary at Christmas dinners, Anniversary dinners, Birthday dinners, and just DINNER! Also, many times it would serve as breakfast and lunch after the dinner as well. Then it became a critical ingredient in the soup for dinner the following evening. Needless to say this one beat them all with its versatility alone. We would always laugh at the amount of unannounced friends who would show up for dinner when her roasted pork was on the menu.
With the memory of all these delicious pork preparations in mind, the lingering taste of my Mom’s roast seems to keep me calling for more.
So, from me to you, I present my Mom’s Roasted Pork Shoulder.
Let me know how you enjoyed it and maybe this might be the beginning of your own family tradition..bon appétit!!
Roasted Shoulder of Pork
8-10 Pound Bone-In Pork Shoulder
3/4 cup Scallions, finely Chopped
3/4 Cup Onions, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Garlic, Fresh, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Ginger, Fresh, Finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Scotch Bonnet Pepper, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Thyme, Fresh, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Salt, plus 1 Tablespoon
3 Tablespoons Allspice, Ground
1 package, dry Onion Soup, reconstituted, 4 cups
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
Using a sharp kitchen knife, cut deep small slits into the pork shoulder all over to create little pockets. Stuff pockets equally with Scallions, Onions, Garlic, Ginger, Scotch Bonnet Pepper, Thyme, Salt, Allspice; reserving a small portion of each to rub on the outside of the shoulder. Rub soy sauce all over meat side of shoulder, getting some of it into the pockets.
Pat the skin dry.
Mix the baking soda with 1 tablespoon of salt and rub all over the skin side of the shoulder.
Place in a roasting pan and leave uncovered, skin side up in the refrigerator overnight.
Heat oven to 350°F.
Add onion soup to the roasting pan.
Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Cook pork until meat is fork-tender and internal temperature registers 145°F, approximately 3 – 3½ hours; discard foil. Increase oven temperature to 450°F. Cook pork, uncovered, adding water in ¼ cup measures if pan becomes dry, until skin is brown and crisp, 20 – 35 minutes, checking pan every 10 minutes.
Transfer pork to cutting board; let rest 20 minutes. Remove skin and cut into pieces. Drain fat from drippings. Cut meat from bone. Serve with skin and pan juices.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.