There are many wonderful Cuban roast pork traditions—and many Cuban restaurants and lunch counters in the U.S. that prepare some version of them. Most popular back in Cuba is a whole roast suckling pig, served on Christmas Day with a mojo (sauce) made with bitter oranges and garlic. This production number, unfortunately, is not seen so often in the U.S.; more common here is the Cuban roast pork shoulder, known as pernil, also delicious. The following recipe for the home chef brings together many of the best things about Cuban pork cookery—and more! You get tender, long-cooked, well-marinated meat and a sauce with an orange-lime dimension that approximates the taste of bitter oranges. The sauce even goes beyond Cuba, incorporating some flavors from other Caribbean countries. Most important, you get the greatest thing of all about a whole roast suckling pig: crunchy skin! It has never been an easy task to arrive at crunchy skin and moist, tender meat at home—but the use of a cooking-bag-enclosed roast in the following recipe, and then the roast’s short stay in a hot oven without the cooking bag, guarantees juicy meat and crisp skin. You should buy large-size cooking bags at your supermarket, right near the plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Don’t fail to serve this dish with black beans and rice—and a great mojito (Hemingway’s favorite rum libation). It’s a Caribbean festival.
a 4 to 5 lb. pork shoulder with the skin on
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup annato seeds
1 head garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1 individual package) Goya Sazon with Annatto (optional)
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
1. Using a sharp, serrated knife, carefully score the skin in a crisscross pattern; the trick is to completely cut through the skin, but not to cut into the meat. The crisscrossing should leave a pattern of 1″ squares on the surface of the pork.
2. Add the olive oil and the annato seeds to a small sauté pan over low heat. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the oil turns very orange. Let the mixture cool slightly, then strain and discard the annatto seeds.
3. In a large bowl combine the garlic, orange juice, lime juice, cumin, oregano, black pepper, kosher salt, bay leaves, onion powder, sugar, and Goya Sazon. Whisk in the warm annatto oil mixture.
4. Open the cooking bag, and place the flour inside the bag; shake the bag to coat the inside with flour. Place the pork shoulder inside the bag, making sure that the fat end of the roast is at the bottom of the bag. Cover roast with the marinade mixture. Twist the bag to take all of the excess air out of the bag, and then tie it with its accompanying tie. The bag should be tight around the pork shoulder; this keeps the entire pork roast immersed in the marinade. Place the tightly wrapped pork shoulder in its bag in a bowl and refrigerate overnight.
5. When ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pork roast bag from its bowl. Place the bag with the roast and marinade inside on a roasting pan. It should stand in the pan on the fat end of the roast, and the tie should be straight up in the air. Using scissors, trim off any parts of the bag that extend upwards beyond the tie. At the very top of the bag, just below the tie, make five 1/2″ slits which will allow some of the steam to escape. Place the roasting pan in the oven, and bake for 3 hours.
6. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, and remove the shoulder from the cooking bag. Work carefully so as to retain all of the juices from the bag. Reserve them.
7. Put the shoulder back in the roasting pan, and return the it to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes more, still at 350 degrees, to make the skin crispy.
8. Meanwhile, place the reserved pan juices in a small saucepan. Remove some fat, if desired. Stir in the fresh cilantro and oregano. Taste for seasoning.
9. Remove the roast from the oven, and let it rest for 15 minutes. While it’s roasting, make sure the sauce is still warm; if not, heat it just a bit. Carve and serve immediately, spooning the sauce over the pork slices.