Monday, December 23, 2013

My Parent's Authentic Cuban Roast Pork

When I was a child, then a teenager and into my late 20's, I would watch my parents prepare Cuban Roast Pork for our Christmas eve dinner celebration. It led, on many occasions, to little friendly battles between my parents (Aida & Eloy) about how much of any one ingredient to add to the Mojo Sauce (pronounced "moe-ho"). When one parent would leave the kitchen, the other parent would sneak in more of the ingredient he or she thought the sauce needed more of. Believe me, this was funny and pretty darn entertaining to watch. In the end though they managed to pull off the most crazy good and delicious Cuban Roast Pork ever. It was so good that their friends would actually call them to make it for parties that they were hosting or going to. It took me many years to figure out the right ratio of garlic, spices and seasonings, because of course nothing was ever written down or measured. It was always a bit of this, a bunch of that, a palm full of this and that. I do have a few of my own tweaks that I think elevate the flavor, like the brine process, but the flavor is the beyond delicious, and the memories those flavor and smells evoke are always welcome and priceless. My brother and I carry on their tradition of celebrating on Christmas eve with roast pork, Cuban black beans, and yucca drenched in garlic-mojo sauce, it's how we pay respect and honor our cultural traditions.  So ... Feliz Navidad to all our readers and followers!

A few recipe notes: Prep time is at least 72 hours before the actual cooking time, so be sure to plan ahead.  This is one recipe where the brine and the  marinade (the Mojo sauce), need  time to do their thing, which is what makes the pork juicy, tender and divinely flavorful. Don't skip or rush any part of this recipe. The time investment is well worth it.

1 - 10 pound pork shoulder

For the Brine:
6 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 head of garlic smashed up (no need to remove peel)

In a microwave safe bowl, add four cups of water, heat until the water boils (about 3-4 minutes). Add salt and sugar, stir until dissolved, then add garlic. Allow to come to room temperature. Place your pork shoulder in a small Styrofoam cooler, add ice, the cooled brine solution and enough water to cover the pork shoulder. Brine for 12 - 24 hours, adding ice, if needed. Once the brine time is up, discard solution and go to the next step.

Tip: I have found that plain old Styrofoam coolers stay colder and the ice lasts way longer then insulated plastic coolers. If you don't have or want to buy a Styrofoam cooler and you have the space in your fridge then by all means use your fridge.  Space is a premium in my fridge so it's hard to have a large piece of pork, in a brine solution, in the fridge.

For Mojo (pronounced "moe-ho") Sauce 
30 cloves of garlic
3 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 onion chopped, finely
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
2 cups of sour orange juice
3 limes juiced
2 1/2 cups olive oil

Using a mortar and pestle, crush and mash up the garlic, salt and peppercorns.
Add the next 5 ingredients to a blender or food processor and the garlic mash from the pestle. Blend or pulse until smooth and all ingredients have been liquefied. Heat the olive oil until it reaches a temperature of about 220-225 degrees. We aren't frying here, we are infusing the flavors into the olive oil. Add in the liquefied ingredients, stir and gently heat through for 1 minute, then take it off the heat and let it cool completely.

Tip: Make the Mojo sauce the same day you begin the brine process, because the longer it sits, the more the spices, herbs and seasoning will meld!  Be sure to store it in the fridge. Take out a few hours before using so that it comes to room temperature.

To Prepare the Pork:
1-2 heads of garlic, cloves separated and skins removed.
Mojo Sauce
1 Large heavy duty turkey injector

Begin by straining the Mojo sauce to remove any bits that may clog your injector.  Do NOT throw out the bits captured by the strainer. Set aside.
Score the skin in 2 to 3 places. Do not remove the skin. The scoring will allow the fat underneath the skin to baste the pork as it cook and it makes for the most heavenly crackling you will ever taste. (Fights have broken out over the crispy crackling at my home!) With a very sharp pairing knife, deeply puncture the pork meat in several places and insert a garlic clove or two as you go. Once you have used up the garlic cloves move on to the flavor injector. Think of the surface of your pork as a grid and starting on the skin side begin injecting the Mojo into the pork. Turn it over and continue injecting until you have used up all the sauce. Remember this captured bits? Rub them all over the skin side.
Place the pork in a large container, skin side up and allow to sit in the fridge, covered, from 12-24 hours. The longer it sits, the better the flavor.

To Cook:
Remove from fridge at least 2 hours before cooking so that it comes to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Remove pork from container, reserving the Mojo sauce that will have oozed out during the marinating process. Pat pork dry, and season generously with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Place pork skin side up on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Place in oven and cook at high temperature for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 325 degrees for 3 - 4 hours or until internal temperature reads 170 degrees. Use the reserved Mojo sauce to baste the pork as it cooks. Be sure to boil the Mojo sauce for a few minutes, so as not to contaminate the pork with raw pork juices, as you baste.
Once cooked, take out of the oven and allow to rest, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. Break apart the crispy crackling and set aside and then begin to break up
the pork meat into long thick shreds or chunks. Now, it's time to party!

Serve with Aida's Cuban Black Beans, white rice, yucca* and fried sweet plantains*, Cuban (preferably) bread, and your favorite beer and wine and of course ... Cuban Flan* (*Recipes coming within the next week). ENJOY!


  1. This pork was absolutely the best, most moist pork you have ever made. I loved it!

  2. I think I out did myself this time. Everyone was raving about it!

  3. Delicious! Great post Jackie. We also eat A LOT of pork here in Greece on Christmas. It's the traditionally served meat in the majority of the country. The last 15-20 years, some turkeys also made their appearance on our tables (mostly because we are influenced by the US culture of serving turkey in the festive Thanksgiving dinner; but since we don't have any Thanksgiving, some are serving it on Christmas which is also a festive occasion). Ourselves, we stick to the tradition and cook pork:)
    Feliz Navidad Jackie!

    1. I did not think pork was a much used meat in Greece. That is really cool to know! I agree with sticking to traditions... it makes sharing a meal with family/friends so much more heart-warming. I would love to know the recipe for a traditional Christmas pork from Greece. Do you have it on your site?
      AND I am hoping this is correct: Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

    2. Hi Jackie, yes it's correct!:)
      Pork is -along with chicken- the most consumed meat in Greece. We actually eat a lot of pork steaks in Greece. Beef steaks are not that common. Beef is used mostly for burgers, and sometimes braised with tomato (called 'kokkinisto' meaning red-ish).
      In our site, we have a recipe that is used a lot during the Holidays, the fried pork and it's really easy:
      This is called 'Tigania' and there are many variations of this. It's served also in taverns and rustic restaurants as a 'meze' (appetizer) in a large plate in the middle of the table.
      Another traditional recipe (we haven't published it yeat, but we sure will) it's pork with celery leaves (a lot of them) and egg-lemon sauce. Sometimes this is also called pork fricassee (Panos remembers many Christmas mornings waking up as a kid and smelling the fricassee being prepared by his mon and grandma).
      We hope you had a lovely Christmas Jackie!

  4. We had a beautiful Christmas and hope you and Panos had a wonderful one too! Thank you for sharing some insight into your cultures eating customs. I am always curious and fascinated by the food of other countries and cultures.
    I will certainly have to try the Tigania it sounds divine... Mustard and herbs!!!
    Thank you for sharing Panos warm memories, those are truly the best ones. Which is why this roast pork recipe is special to me ... for a little while my parents are back in the kitchen, at least in memory they are.

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