The year my cousin Carlos turned 50, his wonderful wife, Adele, threw him a Latin- style yard party in June. By definition, that includes a roast suckling pig on the menu. She didn’t go all the way by digging a pit and roasting the pork in the yard. No, this little guy was delivered from Queens in aluminum foil.
Still, that didn’t keep him from looking adorable (if grotesquely suntanned) with that apple in his mouth and his stitched up lids. And it didn’t keep my daughter – a life-long reader and Charlotte’s Web fan – from whispering “Wilbur” with more horror than if she’d been Fern Zuckerman herself. The result? She’s in college now, and not a shred of meat has passed her lips since that fateful day.
¡Que cosa mas grande! Especially at Christmas. Having no lechón (or as my Puerto Rican friends say, perníl) on Noche Buena is a travesty. Slapping down a piece of dill salmon is just not the same. The Christmas meal for Cubans is as traditional as turkey on American Thanksgiving. We eat roast pork, black beans over white rice, fried bananas, and yucca. For dessert we serve Spanish turrones (almond candies) and flan (recipe on my Oct 10 post). We also keep Pepcid handy.
Sure, we’ve learned to add things around this menu – especially since most of us live in culturally blended families by now. But whether apple pie sits next to your frijoles or not — if you have a Cuban gene in your body, lechón is going to be on your holiday table.
So this week, with all due respect to Wilbur’s memory and to my vegetarian family members, I give you a link to one of my favorite holiday books, Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories (Knopf, 1999) and the directions for preparing the lechón the way it was intended.
The secret is to marinade the pork for at least 2 days and to cook it on very low heat. You want soft, garlicky pork that falls off the bone.
Fresh pork shoulder …about 6 – 7 pounds (not as horrifying to look at in the end.)
1 head of garlic, chopped (nope, not a typo)
1 – 2 T of olive oil
juice from 4 oranges, 4 lemons, and 1 lime
¼ c sherry
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
1 T salt
1 bay leaf, crushed
Make slits all over the shoulder with a sharp knife.
Mix the orange, lemon, and lime juices with the sherry and set aside.
In a mortar, mash the garlic, olive oil and spices.
Insert your paste into the slits and rub remainder on the outside of the pork.
Pour liquid over the pork.
Wrap and let marinate for two days.
Place roast in disposable pan and pour marinade over the top.
Cook on 325 degrees F until the roast reaches 180 degrees (very well done). Baste every hour or so.
If the meat starts to brown too much, tent with aluminum foil.