This article was originally published in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL.
Lauwersoog is a 150-person village in Groningen in the Netherlands. You can travel there in just over two hours from Amsterdam. There's a harbor, a fish market, and the ferry to Schiermonnikoog—and earlier this month, the village hosted the AndersWad festival. The festival was located at the end of the pier in the tiny village's port. It was intended to highlight the ingredients of the region: huge loads of fish, seafood, cheeses, ham, beer, potatoes, and other local products. In addition, restaurant 't Ailand—also located at the end of the pier in the fishing port—celebrated its five year anniversary. And how did it celebrate? By stuffing a huge pig with approximately 4,000 oysters.
On the Tuesday before the festival, the 220-pound Wadden pig—an old Dutch pig breed named Bonte Bentheimer, which hangs around the sea its entire life—was still rolling through the mud. On Wednesday it was put in a container filled with brine made of water from the mudflats, along with sea oak, sagebrush, and some extra salt, all purified by wild oysters. The pig was left in the container until Friday morning, when I drove to Lauwersoog with my colleague to assist with the preparation.
By the time we arrived at the restaurant, a small army of volunteers was busy opening oysters fresh from a nearby mudflat. Inside the restaurant, Barbara, one of the owners of 't Ailand, was giving tasks to volunteers. I helped Baaf Vonk stuff the pig. Baaf sells fish and shellfish at expensive restaurants in Berlin, and has his own fish stall in the foodhall Markthalle Neun in the Kreuzberg district. He is one of the men behind the website varkensroosteren.nl (roast pigs), which is the reason he will be responsible for the preparation of the Wadden pig.
Baaf left Berlin at midnight to be able to get to work on time with the pig. We walked to the filleting room, where I got a small master class in oysters. "The oysters that are caught here and that we use for the filling are Japanese oysters. Jan and Barbara call this kind of oysters wild mudflats oysters. The Portuguese have taken this species to Europe. The oysters eventually also ended up here after hundreds of years time," says Baaf.
Baaf handed me a fishing suit. It was time to lift the pig from the vat of brine. The pig was washed, patted dry, and then rubbed in with nitrite salt—a special kind of salt that ensures that the meat won't turn gray during cooking, but gets a nice deep brown color. Baaf told me I could chop the parsley while he cut the rind into cubes. While cutting, Baaf explained the origin of oyster-stuff pig.
"It's an old American dish that Barbara found in the book Oysters of New York. Manhattan was bought by the Netherlands for 24 dollars in 1612. Soon after that, the oyster beds of Ellis Island were discovered. New York was a city famous for its oysters, which were eaten in large numbers at that time. But they also made other things with them, such as oyster stew and stuffed pork."
Buckets of oyster flesh were brought inside. The meat needed to be rinsed properly so that no grain of sand or grit would get into the pig. In total, about 44 pounds of oyster meat were added—that's roughly 4,000 oysters. If those oysters were purchased instead of picked out of the sea, this dish would have been extremely expensive.
I let the fresh oysters drain in a large colander. The water was freezing and I could no longer feel my fingers after going through the oyster meat with my bare hands for half an hour. Normally I wouldn't say no to oysters, but this container didn't look too appetizing. The remaining oyster juice was sifted and collected in a large saucepan. The moisture was reduced on a wood stove until it became a gravy eventually used to temper the pig during toasting.
Once all the meat was cleaned, it was added to the mixture of rind, parsley, bread crumbs, and porcini mushrooms. A few people were staring questionably at the filling. Baaf picked up some of it and put it in his mouth. He nodded his head, signaling that the pig could be filled.
The pig was then stuck on a huge spit. It was ready to be stuffed and sewn. I had to get in there armpits-deep to make sure all cavities were filled properly. Once the pig was full, Baaf sewed the hole and began to cook the beast.
Because there was no oven large enough for this pig, and because the animal was too big to be completely cooked on the spit, improvisation was key. The solution was a sauna, which was stoked to about 248 degrees fahrenheit. The pig was put in the sauna at around 4 PM. It remained there until the next morning at 10. Baaf then finished the preparation by grilling it above open fire at the festival.
The stuffed pig, which took four days to prepare, was hugely popular. The crackling, crispy skin had a nice, salty taste because of the oyster juice. The meat was tender, and tasted a bit like the sea, but had no dominant oysters taste. The filling became soft because of the yarn and pork fat that had melted through it, which gave it a very intense flavor.
After being surrounded by oyster meat an entire day, I felt like I had to turn down a last oyster before leaving. Normally I love oysters, but after this overdose of slippery gray and salty critters, I think I'll skip them for awhile. With our every pore smelling like fish, we rode back to Amsterdam.