During my recent visit to the wonderful blog of my friend and fellow author Kelly Moran, I was asked about my signature dish for Christmas. Now in my house, Christmas Eve is a mix of Italian, Cuban and American foods, but the signature dish has to be the Cuban-style citrus-marinated roast pork.
We, because it is a family affair to cook this dish, start preparing it the night before after a trip to Union City, New Jersey to pick up some Cuban staples and the pork leg.
I’m normally feeding anywhere from 15 to 25 people on Christmas Eve, so I need a really really big pork leg (pork shoulder/picnic ham/pernil). I normally get a piece of pork that weighs around 25 pounds, but you can buy a much smaller piece and adjust the cooking times (more on that later).
10-15 navel oranges
6-8 Seville (aka Sour) Oranges
6 pink grapefruit
10-20 gloves of finely chopped garlic
Pork leg/shoulder/picnic ham
Juice all the above citrus into a large pot. We use one of those large buckets in which your grocery store deli get its potato salad, etc. Drop by and ask them for one! Ours is only used for the Christmas Eve pork.
The citrus mix should be sour, but with a strong hit of sweet (the navel oranges and grapefruit really help with that). You should have enough citrus juice to fully cover your piece of pork. Once you’ve tasted the sweet/sour mix, then add 3 to 4 bay leaves, about a half cup of garlic (less for a smaller piece of pork) and about 1/4 cup of cumin. Mix this all up.
Take your piece of pork and make multiple slits in it so that the marinade can penetrate into the meat. Place the pork leg in the citrus juice, cover and refrigerate. You’re probably wondering how I keep that big a bucket cold? Put the bucket in one of those big party tubs, place it in your garage (which should be slightly colder anyway) and fill the tub with ice. It should be icy cold in the morning unless you are in a really hot environment in which case you will need to keep on adding ice to keep the meat cold.
In the morning (around 6 a.m. or so) pre-heat the oven to 425. Remove the pork from the citrus and place it in a large roasting dish. Keep some of the citrus juice, bay leaves and garlic for use as a marinade. Discard the rest. Ladle about 1 to 2 cups over the pork and then stick the pork into the oven for one hour at 425. For a small piece of pork, cut down this initial high temp roast accordingly. For ten pounds make it around 30 minutes, anything smaller than that no more than about 15 minutes.
Do not baste the pork during this high heat roast.
When the high heat roast time is up, baste the pork and lower the oven temp to 325. Then cook until the meat pulls away from the bone in the leg and is starting to fall off. Marinate every half an hour during the cooking process. For a 25 pound pork leg, I will cook it for about 8 to 9 hours. The pork will turn this beautiful mahogany brown and just melt in your mouth.
For smaller pieces of pork, adjust the cooking times. A 10 pound picnic ham may take only about 4 or so hours. The key is to keep on basting and cooking at a low temp to keep the meat juicy.
If the pork begins to brown too much, just cover with aluminum and keep on cooking until the meat is fork tender.
Hope you enjoyed today’s Tuesday Tip. Here’s a shot of family and friends sitting around the Christmas Eve table, waiting to start the big meal!