Cajun Hog Roast: Cochon de Lait Festival

We hung 55 pigs that weighed an average of 220 pounds right here, so you multiply 55 times 225 you’re gonna get almost 12,000 pounds of pork. Seriously, that’s a lot of pork. I’m Dr. Howard Conyers in Mansura, Louisiana with another episode of Nourish. Look what’s coming right here. Wow! Wow, truckload of pigs. We’re at the 44th annual Cochon de Lait Festival This is a pitmaster’s and rocket scientist’s dream, combining technology and hog cooking. What could be better? So what is Cochon de Lait? Traditionally it is a French term for a roast and a suckling pig. Smaller than these guys – but when you’re feeding crowds of people you go big and high-tech. One of the best meals that we can give anybody that comes to eat. So if you’re coming, if you’re coming to be a guest at my house, and I’d love to cook you a Cochon de Lait. So if if you love that person, you’d love to cook Cochon de Lait, but if you gave them a hotdog, that says you don’t think much about ’em. No. We started off about 6:00 o’clock in the evening, lit the fire, hung a hogs, weighs about 200 pounds a piece. Usually takes about on the average, 14 to 15 hours to complete cooking. Somebody get a picture of me working so I can show my wife. How many years you been doing this? Four our five years. Four or five years. You look forward to it every year? Yeah, every year I do this. Feeding the fires takes a lot of wood and work. I’ll gradually make the fire bigger and bigger And start, as the pigs heat up and they start turning like brown I’ll go ahead I’ll push ’em close and I’ll just put the fire to it for about six hours straight. What it does It makes the skin crispy, hard like a potato chip. So, when you throw it on the table, it’s just gonna crack. A lot of people like it like that. There I go. There you have it. That’s the best piece right there. That’s the best piece. That’s good. This takes a certain amount of know-how. So I grew up around this probably since I was, far back I can remember, two or three years old. I remember. I’d go outside I’d have to knock it with a stick. That was my job, make it stayed turning, because if it stopped turning, it’d burn. So how do they pull off this event these days? Cajun ingenuity. These are just a little barbecue pit rotisserie. You can buy for $20. It’s a lot better than poking a stick. What you have is a carbon steel box with a what you call a thrust bearing mounted in the bottom right here with a 3/8ths key shaft – welded to a stud, a 1/2 inch stud. So basically your thrust bearing Sits on a pipe and that is your lip of a thrust bearing the weight of the pigs The head of that bolt fits through these little bearings and this holds the pig weight and these little bearings will probably hold a couple hundred pounds, easy. Once the key stock comes up, fits in this 3/8ths spot right here, It’s just a little like I said earlier. That’s a little barbecue pit rotisserie. You can buy anywhere for $20 It’ll run on 2 “D” batters all night. If you didn’t get that, the thrust bearing, this round disc, sits on top of the pipe. The pipe holds the load. The thrust bearing makes it easy for the rotisserie motor to turn it. And see another thing we’ve learned is we used to cook them head down all night, because it’s hard to flip during the night. So about four years ago I said let’s put them head up because we kept on having trouble with the shoulders cooking. Because the shoulder is actually bigger than the actual ham. Yeah. Heat rises so you get more heat up top. You stay so busy because every 25 to 30 minutes you’re adding wood. So, you really ain’t got time. That’s how you pass time. You really ain’t got time to take a nap or anything. That sounds so familiar. I guess there’s only one or two ways to cook pigs. A lotta wood and a lotta hard work. How do you tell when it’s done? When it stops dripping. When it stops dripping. Yeah, pretty much when it stops dripping, and then the amount of time. Do y’all use any kind of barbecue sauce when you’re finished? No. No, sir. Just straight for straight pork. Once the meat is separated from the skin then we’re gonna just sprinkle a little bit more of that seasoning on this. That’s it. This tradition starting in 1960 in this small Cajun town and a party got bigger and bigger. They hung 200 pigs, Cochon de Lait, milk fed pigs. That was smaller pigs. Yes, smaller pigs But today we hang 200 pound hogs. Okay, okay But in 1972, 100 – thousand people came to Mansura. The town population was twenty two hundred, so you can imagine 100 – thousand people visiting this area. It was a fun time. It was a blast man. Then things got a little out of hand. It got so rowdy that people were sleeping in people’s yards. The Catholic Church was never locked and there was a 5:30 mass in the morning. Was it full? Full of people sleeping in the pews. People started getting uneasy in this town. Following the 1972 festival, the town of Mansura and its people passed a petition – timeout. In 1987, the town revived the festival and now it’s going strong. It’s time for a little competition. Hog callin’ and boudin eatin.’ And then the biggest attraction besides the boudin eating contest, then right after that The largest crowd’s gonna be in the greasy pig arena. We grease the pigs with hog lard. With hog lard. Not synthetic. No it’s all natural and we’ll turn them loose. You catch the pig. You sack it. It’s yours to bring home. Oh, you have to take a pig home with you. You get to take the pig home. I think it’s about time to eat. So what sides are we talking about? Rice dressing, candied yams and coleslaw. Any sweet tea? No, no sweet tea. Aw, Louisiana, you’re killin’ me. Well, this man has it covered. We have the seasoning the onions, bell peppers and celery. We’re going to blend this with the giblets and ground meat and whatever for the rice dressing. It smells delicious. This is a very novel idea here. I cut the end of the propane tank and I build a frame on the bottom so it’s not so hard to move around. I put the wheels on a 24 – 5 truck rim, so that my burner fits in the middle and I put handles on the other end so you move the pot like a wheelbarrow. You can pick up the top or you can set it down and the handles are completely out of the way. All it is is square tubing – square tubing, you cut… Wow, notch the bottom out. You put a little pin in here. Yes, sir That’s a good idea. I’m gonna have to borrow that idea from you. There are a lot of deep traditions at work here. I grew up in Mansura and I’m from Katy, Texas. My father used to, you could say, cater to people that would get together on this camp in Old River Uh, and and they would come and get him and they would have him to do these roast pigs and he did this for years. He attended some of the first Cochon de Lait ah, celebrations and did roast pigs for them. We raised pigs also and he always would have a roast pig hanging, he set it up just like this, hanging in the yard roasting for Christmas dinner and for the Easter celebration. So your family, you would say, Christmas and Easter probably one of the two biggest holidays when they were cooking? Those were the big holidays. My family, my dad’s sisters and brothers, cousins, they would all get together and they would have this big celebration where they had the big fish fry and the roast pigs. You know, you had a flavor that was, you know, hard to capture unless you’d do the same thing. When I was growing up, we were raised on a farm and we’ve always had roast pig. It’s Cajun country. It’s farm country. It’s cattle country. It’s industry, I mean we have we have good things here. Good people here too. It’s like God’s country. It’s like God’s country. Yes. Good people and good food. If you have innovative cooking techniques or equipment share below. For more culture traditions as science of Southern foods keep watching Nourish. If you were comin’ to a boucherie at my house, and we were going to cook the cracklings and the boudin and everything, you would want a good layer of fat so you can make the hog lard. but this is to furnish the meat and so you can see, we’ve got about maybe a half inch of fat. This program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

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