Yesterday was St. George’s Day and I met up with a couple of friends, Kaz and Antonio, at Wellington’s to join the party. Wellington’s was about as full as I have ever seen it and there was a definite festive atmosphere beyond the customary TGIF buzz.
Wellington’s proprietor, Jeremy John, had arranged with Alfredo Ancona to provide the food for the event. Alfredo is the chef at Angelino in downtown Sausalito, and, with his wife, Tara, owns CIBO just across Bridgeway from Wellington’s. Jeremy and Alfredo had settled on a menu for the evening of:
~ Porchetta – the classic herb-seasoned Italian pork loin, which Alfredo prepared rolled in pork belly with the skin outside
~ Minted fresh English peas
~ Mashed potatoes
The meal would conclude with the classic, but curiously-named, English dessert – spotted dick.
I was also eagerly anticipating the event since it would mark the Wellington's premiere of the “caja China” (literally “Chinese box”) – a cooking box originally devised by Chinese immigrants to Cuba in the 1800’s, which is now being manufactured and distributed by a firm in Florida named La Caja China.
The box is made of heavy plywood lined on the inside with metal and has a removable cover with a metal tray. The food is placed on a rack inside the box, the box is covered, and hot coals are piled in the tray on top. The food is then cooked by radiant heat.
Alfredo had recently purchased a caja China and was going to fire it up to cook the porchetta. Here is an excellent video showing the preparation and cooking of a whole pig in a caja China.
When we arrived at Wellington’s, Alfredo and his CIBO colleague, Jorge, were already well along with the porchetta. We ordered some Bombadiers and joined them on the deck overlooking the Bay.
Not long after we arrived, Alfredo lifted off the caja China top and flipped the rack holding the porchetta.
The crowd began to grow a bit restive with the spreading fragrance of roasting meat, but happily the porchetta was soon done and emerged in all its glory.
Jorge then quickly heated the peas...
... and Alfredo began carving the porchetta for the salivating masses.
The meal turned out very well. The porchetta was moist and the skin of the pork belly crispy. I had never had minted peas before and frankly was not looking forward to them, but the mint was not overpowering and it was a good counterpoint to the pork. Alfredo had added some sour cream to the mashed potatoes and they were fantastic.
The spotted dick, prepared by Tara Ancona (CIBO’s pastry chef), also made its appearance and was served seated on some Crème Anglais.
Although I am not sure what recipe Tara used, per Wikipedia:
“Spotted dick is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit (usually currants) commonly served with custard, and a standard part of English cuisine. 'Spotted' refers to the dried fruit (which resemble spots) and 'dick' may be a contraction/ corruption of the last syllable of the word 'pudding' or a corruption of the word 'dog,' since 'spotted dog' is another name for the dish.”
For any who are interested, there are some commercial versions available, although one wonders about spotted dick in a can (thankfully we did not have to "go there" last night). On the other hand, obviously someone must buy it!
The only disappointment of the day was that we had been lead to believe that Jeremy would be present in full St. George Day regalia, complete with cape.