Christmas Traditions of Homesick Cuban
Day 1 in making a traditional Christmas pork (Cuban Lechon) marinating. I didn't make it for Christmas eve this year, as we are in a hotel while our truck is getting worked on. But I have fixed this on the truck in the past. It can be a little time consuming, but many home-cooked meals are, and they are so worth it. As soon as the truck is fixed and we're back in it instead of this hotel room, I'll fix it. Perhaps for New Year's Eve.
To make the marinade you need garlic, and lots of it. Depending on the size of the pork anywhere from 3 to 10 heads. Yes, Cuban's use lots of garlic! For a small pork loin, I use around 3-4 heads for the marinade.
- Unsalted Pork loin, keep the fat on
- 3-4 heads of garlic, separated, peeled, and slightly crushed
- 2 cups of Sour Orange Juice (sour oranges are a tropical fruit about the size of a grapefruit, with a flavor similar to Key Limes.) If you can't find sour oranges or their juice, you can make your own by mixing 1 cup of regular orange juice, 1/2 cup of lemon juice, and a 1/2 cup of lime juice.
- Salt and Pepper to taste Crushed Oregano, a couple tablespoons
Start with an unsalted pork loin, make sure it has a good bit of fat still on it. Using a sharp knife poke holes all over the pork loin, then stuff each hole with a mashed clove of garlic. This will take atleast one whole head, and up to several heads of garlic if you have a large pork. Rub the pork down with black pepper and crushed oregano.
In a blender add in the remaining 3 or more heads of garlic, peeled, and all of the sour orange juice. Blend until it is the consistancy of a thin pancake batter. With the pork in a deep-sided pan, pour the orange and garlic marinade over it. Cover with foil, wrap in a large plastic bag (an unused trash bag works well.) Place in the frigerator for at least 24 hours. The larger the pork the longer it needs to marinate. For large porks we will let it soak for 3 full days. Flip the pork a couple times a day.
The day you plan to have your meal, early that morning pour off most of the marinade, then let the pork slow cook in the 12volt lunchbox oven for about 5 hours. If you have a large pork you are cooking in an aroma or at home in a regular oven, still let it slow cook over low heat (300 degrees max) for 4-5 hours, longer if the pork is larger).
Traditionally, this Cuban Pork is cooked with Black Beans and Rice. The Black beans are cooked with lots of garlic and onion, as well as a few spoon fulls of the marinade. These can be prepared a day or two ahead of time, either on the stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Place in refrigerator then heat up the day you plan to eat them. They are actually much better done this way as the flavors have time to mix.
Since Allen can't eat black beans, I usually fix blackeyed peas with rice or mashed potatoes.
The pictures of the pork, fresh out of the oven, still in the "mojo" / mo - ho / which is all the yummy juices from the pork, the pork fat that has melted, the garlic, the oregano, and the marinade.
Our traditional Cuban Key West dinner is the Lechon (the pork), black beans and rice, maybe fried plantains, hot Cuban bread, and for dessert, key lime and sour orange pies. These are eaten late on Christmas eve with family and friends.
Decades ago in Key West it was a huge affair, many times taking up a whole block. The pork was an entire pig seasoned, marinated, and slow cooked in the ground all day. Dinner was served at midnight!