In Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico, CIA Agent Sands, played by Johnny Depp, is obsessed with cochinita pibil. His passion runs so deep that he’ll murder any cook who makes the Mexican slow-roasted pork dish too well, in order to preserve balance in the country.
Word on the street is that cochinita pibil is on the menu for this year’s Second Annual Feral Hog Roast, in which San Antonio’s finest chefs and restaurants compete to serve up the tastiest wild pig. That said, Rene Fernandez of Azuca better watch his back in the kitchen. The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance has extended the prized invitation to Fernandez in addition to chefs Jason Dady of Bin 555 and The Lodge, Steve Straus of The Barn Door, Jason Strange of Steaknite at the Waring General Store, and Sho Nakpodia, who’s cooking African-style for this year’s festivities.
Feral hogs populate much of Texas, their proliferation due largely to improved habitat and a lack of natural predators. Aggressive, destructive nuisances to the farming community, they’re known for tearing up ranches with their snouts in search of food, but they also make a mean meal in the hands of a good cook.
“What `our membership` has in common is that we recognize what a treasure we have in our groundwater resources and the need to protect and preserve them,” said Annalisa Peace, executive director of GEAA. “Part of our mission is also to protect the Texas Hill Country. What better way than by celebrating it in a way that uniquely features the culture and bounty of the region?”
The family-friendly affair includes hayrides and horseshoes this year, in addition to live music, complimentary wine and beer, and silent and live auctions. But the main event is definitely the food. Since this year is the second go-round for the majority of the chefs, they’re strategizing creative twists.
“Last year I just did a traditional type of roast,” said The Barn Door’s Straus. “Covered it with aluminum foil and smoked it real slow, then towards the end opened it up and started browning it on the outside, using pepper and garlic. But everybody pretty much had the same idea.”
Straus said he’s still going to smoke the hog this year, but will probably go with a pulled-pork approach, tearing all of the meat off the bone. Pulled pork traditionally is served with a vinegary sauce, and Straus said he’d try that as a dressing with roasted red peppers. Although the recipe isn’t comparable to anything on the menu at The Barn Door, Straus is no stranger to a hog roast. “I have a ranch and I’ve smoked several hogs out there over the years,” said Straus. “I also have some family members from North Carolina, where pulled pork is the king, so I’ve been influenced a bit in that direction.”
Azuca’s Fernandez said he did a slow-cooked, adobo pork dish last year, but decided to go with the cochinita pibil for this year’s endeavor. His recipe originated in the Mayan peninsula — the meat is marinated in citrus juices, colored with achiote, and slowly braised while wrapped in banana leaves.
“I change `Azuca’s` menu every once in a while,” said Fernandez, “and I used to have a pollo pibil, which is a chicken version of the achiote. And right now I have the short ribs, which are also braised very slowly.”
Jason Dady said he got a pretty lean hog for last year’s roast, but holds that knowing how to manipulate the heat in accordance with size makes all the difference. “You just need a bit lower heat for a longer time,” said Dady. “In my opinion, the wild hog will be leaner than a farm-raised hog, so a lower heat with a longer time helps soften and break down that meat to get it tender and juicy.” The hogs also varied greatly in size at the inaugural roast, and Dady said he hoped to get a bigger one this year — last year his was 25-30 pounds — while Straus said he landed a hundred-pounder that was a little hard to handle in the smoker.
“Last year I kind of cooked ’em flat, cooked on two sides,” said Dady. “This year we’ll probably do more of a rotisserie style, with hardwood charcoal underneath. We’ll have a sauce specifically for ours, a sweet glaze to play off that crispy skin.”
In addition to the hogs, trimmings, shrimp-stuffed avocados, gorditas, traditional pan de campo, and an assortment of desserts will be provided by Don Strange of Texas, Inc. Libations from Blue Star Brewery, La Tuna, and Alamo Beer round out the night.
The annual roast brings together GEAA supporters from all over the Hill Country, and Peace speaks of its importance for the group’s mission. “Most of our funding from GEAA comes from donations from individuals, including the price of these tickets,” said Peace. “The funds support our education programs, advocacy for aquifer protection, grants to local groups, and more.”
Dady said he feels fortunate to be invited to support GEAA’s cause. “In all honesty, it’s a blast,” he said. “There’s nothing better that someone bringing you a whole pig and saying, ‘Here, cook this for us.’ That’s what it’s about for us.” •
Second Annual Feral Hog Roast
4-10pm Sat, Oct 27
$100 adults, $30 children 10 & under
Don Strange Ranch in Waring, Texas