121214 feast4Laura Pena, center, and helpers prepared a feast for 1,200 guests in the kitchen of Saint Anthony’s Church. Below, every little container of salsa verde was filled by hand.  (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)


121214 feast2What does it take to feed some 1,200 hungry Hispanics at a religious feast following a long procession through Red Bank?

If the event is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we’re talking many trays filled with slow-roasted, fall-off-the-bone, juicy spiced pork infused with pineapple.

The aroma from the kitchen of Saint Anthony’s Church on Bridge Avenue certainly got a multitude of mouths salivating.

121214 feast1Tacos al pastore were on the menu at Saint Anthony’s on December 12. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

“We celebrate in the tradition of Mexico, to Our Lady of Guadalupe – and Red Bank is full of Mexicans,” parishoner and kitchen helper José Rojas said.

Not only Red Bank, added Laura Pena. “People come from Long Branch, Middletown and even New York,” she said. “This is a two-day event. Yesterday we ate tamales and had a mariachi band here.”

So what’s involved in feeding some 1,200 people at once? A lot of planning and help in the kitchen.

Days before, a salsa roja, or red sauce, is prepared, and made redolent with garlic and a mixture of hot and tangy red chilis and the slightly bitter achiote spice. A second sauce, or salsa verde, is made from tomatillos, onions, and cilantro. More than a thousand little personal sized containers are filled with each of the sauces.

A third cupful, containing diced white onions, rounds out the tricolor tribute to the Mexican flag on each plate.

Each is also laden with “tres taquitos,” assembly-line fashion, all served on heated corn tortillas filled with the meltingly delicious spicy pork in the style of the shepherds.

This symbolic feast is not only a commemoration of a day long ago, it also marks the start of the Christmas season. Procession walked, houses blessed, and mass said, the mouth watering fragrance in the rose festooned all-purpose room was overwhelming. Then the dishes were sent out from the kitchen, traditional to the core with their red, green and white themed feast.