Taste is experienced on the tongue and in the mind – and what better way is there to summon your inner Cuban than to prepare a traditional Cuban feast.
Cuban MoJo Roasted Pork (Lechon Asado) is the main guest or centerpiece at almost any Cuban celebration. A Cuban feast typically includes some form of beans and rice. And the leftover pork is the soul of a next day’s Cuban sandwich. When you’re done preparing and eating Cuban style, you’ll have fed at least ten people – and several more the next day – but you also should have experienced how food is really all about culture and happiness.
“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 1825.
Cuban Food History
Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Native American Taino food, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Some Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish and African cooking – and some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor adds to the complexity of the island nation’s food tradition. The result of this confluence is a unique and flavorful blend of the many cultural influences. There is a small but noteworthy Chinese influence, found mainly in the Havana area.
During colonial times, Cuba was an important port for trade, so many Spaniards brought their culinary traditions. Along with Spain, other culinary influences include African (from the Africans that were brought to Cuba as slaves) and French (from the French colonists who came to Cuba from Haiti). Another important factor is that Cuba itself is an island, making seafood a major influence. Finally, the tropical climate produces fruits and root vegetables that are used in Cuban dishes, adding both color and flavor.
Ricky’s Meats – My Local Cuban Butcher
By raw food I mean exploring the food chain that connects our tables to the producers of food. In Miami, this means visiting Ricky’s Meats and Deli. Ricky’s is a three generation family owned business. It was originally started in New York City as a corner butcher shop in the 1970s and since 1992 has been serving South Florida. There is likely a similar store in your town.
At Ricky’s, buying meat is transactional and in Spanish. There are no frills. My broken Spanglish was not a problem, nor was my lack of familiarity with the process: butcher consultant, payment counter and outside pickup.
Cuban MoJo Roasted Recipe
I was able to draw on past experience smoking pork butts to blend together a recipe for a rustic, slow-cooked pork shoulder in the Cuban tradition.
1 bone-in pork shoulder (about 6 to 8-pounds)
6 cups fresh orange juice (sour if possible), divided
2 cups fresh lime juice
1 orange, zested
1 lime, zested
1 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons ground cumin
15 garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil
2 yellow onions, cut into rings
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Marinate the pork shoulder overnight or for at least four hours.
Marinade: Combine 6 cups of the orange juice and 1 cup of the lime juice and zest in a large saucepan over high heat and reduce to 4 cups. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining orange juice and lime juice add a few cloves of chopped garlic, 1/4 cup of the oregano and one tablespoon cumin. Let cool to room temperature.
Using a small knife, make slits over the entire surface of the pork (not the skin side) and insert the remaining garlic into the slits. Mix the oil, onions and remaining 1/4 cup of the oregano and cumin in a large roasting pan or garbage bag. Add the pork and remaining ingredients – turn to coat. Finally, chop and add several of the orange and lime skins.
Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
Remove the marinating pork from the refrigerator several hours before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Discard the marinade, season the pork with salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan, skin side up.
Roast until golden brown and until the internal temperature reaches 185 degrees F. (6-7 hours)
Remove from the oven let rest 15 minutes before slicing
Mojo Dipping Sauce is required:
10 cloves garlic
1 small serrano chile, chopped
5 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Mash the garlic, serrano, cumin, cilantro and a few pinches of salt until it becomes a paste. Add the orange juice, lime juice and oil and stir to combine.
TasteofCuba.com has a great recipe for black beans and rice. Allow a day to soak and cook the beans.