Saturday, September 01, 2007

'Imu Me This

Doug and his buddy from DC digging the 'imu.

Sometimes you wonder if you've come full-circle to the things in your past. I just returned from Springfield Farm where, tomorrow, we will be dropping a 55lb. pig into a hole Hawaiians call an 'imu and turning it into that magical feast known as Kalua Pig.

Actually, you can kalua just about anything. Turkey is a favorite. Beef is unexplored. Taro and breadfruit are tasty items. Got an extra dog you don't need? Kalua that too!

Reality is that I make Kalua Pig on a somewhat regular basis with my handy-dandy Fast Eddie smoker. Pour mesquite pellets into the hopper, add a big pork shoulder picnic and sixteen hours later: Kalua Pig. No muss, no fuss. Just good eating.

I think we're coming full-circle because it's been about nine years since the last time I was involved with a real 'imu. Back then I was helping out the Imua Canoe Club during one of my visits to Honolulu. There's nothing like sitting around with friends all day while the pig cooks and then standing around shredding the meat later. It's wholesome. It's wholistic. It's healing. Until you burn yourself.

For those of you interested in making an 'imu at home, it's a lot of work. Better to just go to Costco and buy a tub of Keoki's Kalua Pig. Much easier, if you live in Honolulu. For the rest of us, it's a major operation.

First, pull out the backhoe from the barn. No backhoe? Then you, some friends and a shovel for each of you will do the trick. You will dig a hole that's about twice as large as your pig and about two feet deep.

Next, gather some lava rocks. No lava rocks? Then non-permeable river stones will do. None of those either? Then hustle yourself down to the fireplace store and buy yourself a lot of fire bricks. However, if you do go with natural rocks, make sure they don't explode. This is kinda important.

Traditionally, the Hawaiians used Keawe wood to fire the 'imu. If you're not in Hawai'i you're S.O.L. (Shit Outta Luck) but happily, mesquite can be used in a pinch. No mesquite? Then a nice hard wood will do. We don't have mesquite for tomorrow so we'll probably go with maple or whatever wood is sitting in the barn.

Pile the rocks and the wood in the 'imu and light that sucker on fire. You want to burn that fire hot. It can't get too hot. Keep that fire blazing for at least two hours. You want the rocks to be white hot. This is why you need non-porous rock. If water has penetrated the rock, the heating of the rock will cause the water to steam, build pressure and explode. There's nothing more disrupting to a party than your guests being burned, injured and perhaps killed from exploding rocks.

A major part of making the 'imu is the camaraderie. It's a great time to sit around with friends, drink beer, talk story, play music and talk about chicks. However, before you get too drunk, there's more work to be done.

Previously, you've gathered lots of burlap bags (enough to cover the 'imu twice) and you've chopped down about six banana trees. No banana trees? Corn stalks or soaking wet shredded cabbage will do. You've also got a wet canvas tarp that will extend about 12 inches over the edges of the imu. Keep all of those nearby because it's almost time.

Now to the pig. Of course, you've already killed, gutted and cleaned the pig, right? If not, slaughtering the pig is relatively easy, if not a but queasy. Hold the pig down and drive a large knife into its' throat. The pig will scream, kick, run and try to get away from the fate it can't imagine but is already succombing to. It's not a pleasant task but think about all the happy people you will be feeding. That may help. If not, go to confession.

Once the pig is dead (it would be nice to save the blood for something like dinuguan), have a pot of hot water at the ready. Now, pour some of this very hot water over the animal and start scraping the hairs off with whatever tool you have available: knife, hands, brick, whatever. Then take that same knife and cut lengthwise along the belly of the pig, removing all internal organs.

The nice thing about a pig is that most of the internals can be used. Liver, heart and even the intestines. If you're intrepid enough, clean the intestines thoroughly, cut up into bite sized pieces and deep fry until crispy. It's what Filipinos call chicharon bulaklak. Of course, if you don't clean it as thoroughly as you should, there will be "gritty" bites - and you don't want to know what's causing the "grit"...

Rinse out the inner cavity and make sure the pig is clean inside and out, and it's ready to go! If you're using a pig from a butcher, be sure to let it sit out for a couple hours to come to room temperature.

Now you're ready to get down to it. Rub the inside of the pig with a very generous amount of ala'e- the traditional Hawaiian red sea salt. Don't have it? Well, go get some, pinche cabron. Es muy importante!!! Still no? Okay, then use large grain kosher salt instead. Note: don't bother rubbing the skin with salt. The skin and fat will not absorb the salt and you'll just be wasting your time and good salt.

Go back to the 'imu and pull out any remaining wood chunks and spread the hot rocks in a pattern loosely resembling the pigs' silhouette and grab several rocks to use inside the pig.

Take the pig, throw the rocks in the body cavity and wrap it in chicken wire. If you don't do this, the pig will fall apart when you try to take it out and you'll be cursing yourself - not to mention looking pretty dumb and lame in front of the chicks.

Line the imu with the corn stalks or crushed banana tree trunks. You want a thick layer of wet plant material as this will provide most of the moisture to steam the meat. Criss-cross the material to interlock the layers. If you can line the top layer with banana leaves (fresh or frozen) all the better. Add a few ti leaves from Hawaii and then drop the pig on top.

Once the pig is in, continue layering with the banana or corn stalks until it's thoroughly covered. Keep covering with interlaced wet burlap sacks and then drop the wet canvas tarp on top. Cover everything with dirt. Watch for steam escaping around the edges and cover with dirt. You don't want any steam escaping.

Once you've got it covered, kick back and start drinking. For a 55lb. pig, it should take about eight hours. Eat, sleep, drink and flirt with the chicks until it's time to pull it out of the 'imu.

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