Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
The first Cuban roast pork I ever ate was the best. It was at the home of a Cuban friend I knew in high school.
Her brother was getting married, and they held the wedding dinner at home.
The centrepiece of the feast was a whole pig.
I’ve eaten Cuban roast pork at restaurants in San Francisco and New York, and I’ve cooked it myself – but it’s never been as good, probably because the atmosphere has never been as happy and festive as at that wedding feast.
Cuban roasted pork
I’ve made this with different cuts of meat and with and without the skin. This method works well for me. It isn’t actually a roast (which would mean cooking it as a whole, large piece of meat), which is why I call it “roasted” (after the cooking method). I cut the pork into large chunks so the marinade can flavour the meat better, and so it takes less time to cook.
2kg skinless pork shoulder
For the marinade:
4 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp dried oregano
80ml fresh orange juice
40ml fresh lime juice
40ml fresh lemon juice
80ml olive oil
Fine sea salt
Steamed white rice
Black beans (recipe below)
Fried plantain (recipe below)
Combine the ingredients for the marinade, seasoning with about one teaspoonful of salt. Cut the pork into large chunks, pour the marinade over the meat and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for four hours, or longer, mixing frequently.
Make the sauce so the flavours have time to blend. Roughly chop the onion and garlic cloves, then put them in a food processor. Add a teaspoonful of salt and the citrus juice and zest, and process until the ingredients are roughly puréed. With the motor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube. Taste the sauce and add more salt, if needed. The flavour will be very strong at this point but it will mellow as it sits.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Put the meat and marinade in a roasting pan, spreading it out so the pork cooks evenly. As the meat cooks, stir it frequently and baste it with the juices that collect in the pan. Remove the pan from the oven when the meat is tender (about two hours). Place the pan over a medium flame on the stove and cook, stirring often, until the pork starts to brown and the liquid is reduced to a glaze. Remove from the heat, cover the pan with foil and leave to rest for about 10 minutes before roughly chopping the meat.
Scoop white rice onto the plate and top with the chopped pork. Add a spoonful of the sauce. Spoon some of the black beans onto the plate and add several pieces of plantain before serving.
500 grams dried black beans
1 bay leaf
45ml olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 red bird’s-eye chilli
1 tsp cumin seeds
100 grams small tomatoes, diced
30ml fresh lime juice
Fine sea salt
Rinse the black beans then put them in a bowl and add enough water to cover by about 3cm.
Leave to soak for about eight hours. Drain the beans, put them in a pan and add fresh water to cover by about 3cm. Add the bay leaf then bring the water to a boil, lower the heat and simmer the beans until tender. Ladle off about 100ml of the cooking liquid and reserve it, then drain the beans and discard the bay leaf.
Cut the chilli in half lengthwise and scrape out and discard the seeds. Mince the chilli. Heat the oil in a large skillet and, when it’s hot, add the garlic, onion, chilli and cumin seeds. Cook over a low flame until the onion is soft. Turn the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes, black beans and about 50ml of the cooking liquid. Season to taste with salt then heat the ingredients until simmering. The beans should be moist but not soupy. If they’re too wet, simmer until the liquid is absorbed; if they’re dry, add more of the cooking liquid. Add the lime juice and simmer briefly. Adjust the seasonings if needed, then serve.
The plantain is a fruit that looks like a large, slightly misshapen banana. It needs to be cooked and is eaten at different stages – when the peel is green, it’s very starchy; when it’s yellow, it has a slight sweetness; and when it’s black, it can be used to make desserts. I like it best when the skin is yellow with a few dark spots.
2 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp granulated sugar
Oil, for pan-frying
Thoroughly combine the salt and sugar. Peel the plantain, then cut them, diagonally, into 8mmthick pieces. Lay the slices on a cutting board and sprinkle very lightly with the salt and sugar mixture, then turn them over and season the other side.
Heat a skillet (preferably cast-iron) over a medium flame, then brush it liberally with oil.
Pan-fry the plantain slices until the surface is golden, then flip the pieces over and pan-fry the other side.