Arriving back in Ubon about 5:00 p.m. on the 23rd, my first step in getting prepared for the Christmas Eve buffet was to mix myself a strong Sangsom & Red Bull. I followed this with another strong one because, well, I could. Then I started soaking 1,500g of navy beans and relaxed a bit until Tony arrived with the piglet. Tony and his lovely wife decided to stay the night in the accommodation behind the pub, and since he was joined buy a modestly robust group of regular expat patrons, I proceeded to procrastinate until well after midnight when I finally applied a spice rub to the inside of the piglet’s belly and stitched it up. So far I’d only cut myself twice.
I’d had a fire made that evening, too, and, interrupting my procrastination briefly, I started preparing some stock with the clever idea that I’d just put it in the oven over night. The wood-fired oven is about 20 to 25cm thick with firebricks and concrete and insulated with rice-husk ash. It absorbs an incredible amount of heat; the heat later radiates from all directions, cooking food quite nicely. This type of oven has been in use in the West since at least the formation of the Roman Republic. The trouble is, they take a long time to heat up and a long time to cool down. That’s why I had the fire made the night before I was going to put it to heavy use. I’d also planned to make two more fires, one shortly before the piglet, and one after the piglet. I learned last year that it is much easier to deal with an oven that is too hot, but there’s not much that can be done when an oven is not releasing enough heat.
The next morning, I pulled the stock out only to find that not much had happened to it. It went on the stove. The heat doesn’t care which direction it goes, deeper into the oven walls, or into the food that’s supposed to be cooking. It needs to be saturated with heat. So I got a fire going. I actually brought firewood with me from Laos as the stuff we use at the pub is usually not very dry (cutoffs from a local sawmill). I’ll spare you the details, but the piglet came out looking quite superb.
I boiled the beans while in the oven with the piglet. At the point in the photo I turned the piglet over and added potatoes to roast. They needed more time to finish off later. I made another fire and got the two turkeys, which had been in brine from morning, inside under aluminum foil about 2-1/2 hours before serving time. They came out perfectly. As did the stuffing and other stuff. The baked beans weren’t quite ready, though, so I put them back in the oven and forgot about them until the next morning. This is a photo of me forgetting them. All in all it was an excellent meal, I was told. Anyway, I survived.