Pig in the city, Cuban style

Barbecue: Island cuisine came to the ballpark with the Cuban ballplayers. The pork was a winner

Cubans At Camden Yards

May 04, 1999|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,SUN COLUMNIST

Cuban barbecue came to Camden Yards yesterday and was mucho successful. Roast pigs bathed in garlicky marinade overshadowed the traditional ballpark fare.

The pigs were part of a number of Cuban-style dishes served during yesterday's game between the Orioles and the Cuban National Baseball Team. A fan could find picadillo, fried plantains and black beans and rice in ballpark restaurants and some concession stands. Even Boog Powell added a Cuban sandwich to his menu, which usually features pit beef.

But the real culinary crowd pleasers were two pigs roasted and served in the bullpen picnic area.

"It looked a lot like Boog's," said Steve Schwat, a Chevy Chase salesman, who said that until yesterday he ate only hot dogs at the ballpark. "It tastes indigenous."

His companion, Scott Greenberg, a Washington insurance broker, shoveled in black beans and rice, exclaiming, "Good stuff."

Bill DeSandro of Glyndon gave the Cuban fare an 8 on a scale of 10. "Ten," he said, "would be Boog's."

But Erik Monti, a computer-network owner from Baltimore, said his pork sandwich was "a heck of a lot better than hot dogs."

Such praise for the pork was salsa music to the ears of Michael J. Traynor, executive chef for Aramark, Camden Yards' concessionaire.

Traynor began his preparations for the pig roast several days ago. He ordered the pigs, two porkers that, according to Craig Hamilton, sales manager for Fells Point Wholesale Meats, hailed from North Carolina and weighed in at close to 110 pounds each.

The chef then gathered ingredients for the marinade, the spicy bath that the pigs would soak in for 48 hours. "One key to roasting a pig is your choice of marinade," Traynor said yesterday morning as he briskly moved around the ballpark, giving orders to his staff and tending the roasting pigs.

To give the pork a distinctive Cuban flavor, he made a mojo, a tangy marinade containing garlic, salt, cilantro, olive oil, bitter oranges and other spices.

Some cooks use lime juice in their mojos, but Traynor said he preferred using bitter oranges, imported from Florida, for their prized acidity. Traynor became acquainted with mojo- making and other fine points of Cuban cooking several years ago when he worked at the Sheraton hotel and Green Turtle restaurant in the Florida Keys.

"They say in Cuban cooking there can never be enough garlic or enough salt," he said. "And it is said the more bitter the marinade the better the pig."

He paused to taste the marinade -- an orange-looking liquid with pieces of cilantro floating in it. He nodded with approval. It passed the bitterness test.

Along with four cases of bitter oranges, 40 pounds of garlic, two bushels of cilantro and 5 gallons of olive oil went into the marinade, Traynor said.

He made 60 gallons of the solution. The liquid not only doused the two pigs cooked in the propane-fired, covered cookers in the picnic area but also hundreds of pounds of pork shoulders cooked in Aramark's oven that eventually were sliced and served.

Traynor rose before dawn to start cooking the pigs. "It takes nine to 12 hours to cook a pig," he said. Since the pork-eating public was scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m., Traynor had to have the pigs on the grill by 5 a.m. He did.

The routine is nothing new to him since there have been many cooked pigs in his past, he said. Traynor came to the Camden Yards post in November from the Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, N.C. There, he roasted a pig every weekend, he said.

"I like to cook them slow on low heat," he said, noting that yesterday's porkers cooked at 300 degrees. "I like to baste them to keep them moist. And I turn them only once."

He starts out cooking the pig, skin side down, with the skin facing the fire. Then, he flips the pig and finishes cooking it bone side down.

Asked how he knows when the meat is done, Traynor offered three answers: One, when the meat easily pulls off the bones; two, when you stick a fork in the ham -- the thickest part of the pig -- and the juices run clear; or when the pig is so tender, you can twist off the tail.

Yesterday, a crowd of curious eaters lined up in the bullpen picnic area, shelled out their money -- $6.75 for a sandwich and $7.50 for a platter that included sandwich, fried plantains and black beans and rice -- and made quick work of the Cuban pigs.

For a few delicious moments, the cry of "play ball" was less important than the invitation to "eat pork."

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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