It is a concept so tasty and fun it’s surprising no other restaurants in Cayman does it, but Ortanique’s Full Moon Island Pig Roast has been a hit with both visitors and residents.
Pig roasts and tropical locations just seem to go together.
Maybe it’s the thought of Hawaiian luaus or Cuban-style barbecues in Miami, but pig roasts conjure images of palm trees, sand and cool ocean breezes.
For whatever reason though, pig roasts here in the Cayman Islands have been limited to private parties and one-off restaurant offerings in the past.
In February this year Ortanique restaurant hosted the first of its monthly Full Moon Island Pig Roasts. Occurring the night of a full moon – or a day before or a day after if the full moon falls on a Friday or Saturday – the pig roast event takes place on The Island in Camana Bay’s harbour. When arriving, guests are encouraged to leave their shoes by the palm tree and get their toes into The Island’s soft, white sand.
Nicholas Anderson, the maitre d’ and event planner with Ortanique, said the restaurant didn’t really expect too much to begin with, but the pig roast events really caught on quickly.
“The past few pig roasts have been a big success,” he said. “We had a lot more tourists at the beginning, but word has spread and now we’re getting more locals.”
This little piggy
The star of any pig roast is, as would be expected, the pig.
Although Ortanique is trying to get suitable pigs locally, right now it brings them in from Miami.
The pig is split in two lengthwise and roasted in a Bene Casa La Caja Asadora roasting box.
Before roasting, the pig is bathed in a simple brine of water, salt and sugar for three days. On the day of roasting, it is taken out of refrigeration and allowed to come to room temperature, a process that takes about two hours, said Sous Chef Mike Fischetti, who handles the pig roasting duties for Ortanique.
“You don’t want to cook it cold. It would take too long and there’s more of a risk to burn,” he said.
The split pig is injected with a mojo marinade and the skin is salted. Then it’s put between to metal racks and lowered into the La Caja Asadora charcoal roaster.
Unlike regular charcoal grills, the coals are put over food, not beneath it. The insulated, aluminium-lined box is covered with a forged aluminium tray, which is then topped with a grate. Hot charcoal is then placed on top of the grate.
“It acts as a broiler and an oven at the same time,” said Fischetti, adding that the temperatures in the cooking chamber below get to 800 or 900 degrees, allowing for the relatively fast cooking of something even as large as a half-pig.
Roasting a pig is still an all-day exercise for Fischetti, although he doesn’t mind.
“This is my favourite day of the month,” he said. “This is fun for me. But it’s a labour of love; it takes way too long not to love doing it.”
Like all other outdoor cooking, pig roasting is also an art form onto itself. To help Fischetti learn the finer aspects of the art, Ortanique owner Cindy Hutson had a pig roasting pro, Gary Ferguson, come over from Jamaica and give the sous chef some instruction.
Once the pig is cooking in the roasting box, Fischetti adds more coals as they are needed. The pig isn’t done until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees and the meat easily pulls apart. When it gets to about 170 degrees, Fischetti slits the skin to open the fat cap.
“The most important part is getting the skin to where it’s almost like jelly,” he said. “That’s when you can get it crisp without burning it.”
When done right, the skin will be crisp and golden brown, not black.
“You’ve got to get the skin nice and crispy,” said Fischetti. “If you don’t do that, then you’ve failed.”
Most pig roast fans will say the crackling – the crispy skin – is the best part and Fischetti said the La Caja Asadora roasting box is perfect for that task.
“There’s no better way to get crackling on a pig,” he said.
More food and good fun
Although Ortanique’s Full Moon Island Pig Roast naturally centres around the pig, the event features plenty of other food plus lots of fun
The pig roast in May started with guests enjoying a complimentary mojito cocktail at sunset while local musicians played. Additional mojitos, beer, wine or other mixed drinks were available at the cash bar.
Cuban-inspired Bocaditos – small bites – were passed around, including Manchego and cheddar cheese puffs, pork kebab skewers, serrano ham-wrapped melon, shrimp ceviche and sweet plantain that had been beer battered and deep-fried and then topped with cumin aioli, a treat the chefs had just concocted days before.
After the sunset, the Island was illuminated by the light of the full moon, creating a little tropical oasis.
Seating for dinner was at two long tables and the food was served family style on large platters. Complementing the roasted pig was a house salad, local vegetables, black beans and rice and some fresh local fish. Platters of pig, complete with pieces of crackling, kept coming for as long as guests wanted more and dessert topped everything off. No one left hungry.
The convivial atmosphere created by the long banquet tables – and no doubt aided by the mojitos – made for a lot of spirited conversation and laughing. Guests lingered long after dinner, enjoying the company and atmosphere of The Island.
Maitre d’ Anderson said the Ortanique Full Moon Pig Roasts will continue right on through the summer on or near the full moon.
“We will just try to work around the weather,” he said.