Part I – Lechon Asado
On our third date, my husband promised to introduce me to “the food of his people.” He took me to Versailles, a Cuban restaurant I had been to many times before, but he didn’t know that. When we got there, he ordered croquettes and started to explain some items on the menu to me. I thought I knew Cuban food, but this was a whole new way of seeing, understanding, and ultimately tasting it.
Lechon asado, a roasted pork marinated with tangy bitter orange and garlic, has been my long-time “go to” for Cuban food, but I started really exploring other things that night. I began to understand the intricacies and art of Cuban black beans along with the satisfaction of a good cordadito (espresso shot cut with a splash of milk) after a meal.
A few months later, he took me to Miami, where he really immersed me in some Cuban culture. We drank cortadidos and ate a pastel every afternoon. I somehow kept up with the rapid Cuban Spanish and I drank more than my fair share of mojitos. It was a grand time.
For our first New Year’s Day together, I decided to make him lechon asado. I scoured the grocery store, looking for bitter orange, but that proved to be difficult to find. I finally opted for a lemon, lime and orange combination. My lechon was passable and good, but it lacked the tang I love in a typical lechon asado.
So, I tried blood orange and additional lemon. But the lechon wasn’t fooled; it wanted the bitter orange. It was never quite right without it. Amazon to the rescue! I found a Cuban shop on Amazon that sold bitter orange juice in the bottle, and just like that, my lechon finally tasted the way I expected.
Since then, I’ve made lechon asado for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) for my husband’s family. I also created a Cuban feast for my son’s first birthday. I’m happy to say, it’s become a part of the regular meal rotation in our house. He now calls me his “cubanasa postiza”.
Ingredients (6-8 servings):
- 5 pounds pork shoulder
- 10 cloves garlic (or more, if you want!)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 bottle bitter orange juice (24.5 oz)
- 1 white onion
- Use a fork and pierce the pork all over.
- Use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic. Add the salt, peppercorns, and oregano. Grind into a mash.
- In a medium sized bowl, pour the bitter orange and olive oil. Add the mash and combine thoroughly.
- Pour the marinade over the pork and let sit overnight.
The next day:
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Cut the onion into long strips and place half of them in the bottom of the roasting pan or pot. Reserve the other half to garnish over the pork when finished.
- Then put the pork And marinade in a roasting pan or pot, with the fattest side up. Insert a meat thermometer through the center.
- Place the pan uncovered into the oven and reduce the temperature to 250 degrees.
- Spoon the marinade over the pork a few times throughout the cooking. Remove the pork when the thermometer reads between 175 (for sliced pork) to 195 degrees (for a pulled pork texture). This will usually take about 8 hours, depending on your oven. If you find it’s cooking too slowly, slowly raise the temperature of the oven to 275.
- Serve with fresh onion, rice, black beans and plantains.