Thursday, April 15, 2010

In Touch with My Roots, this is not a post about my hair. As exciting as a tragic run in with a bad dye job would be, I have to disappoint you.

But, being that most of you are foodies, I think you will recover quickly.

As mentioned in a previous post, Sunday I planned (and executed) a big family dinner. Most of the time, big dinners at my house are inspired by some Food Network, back issue of Gourmet amalgam, but this time my inspiration came from a little closer to home.

Having a Cuban father, I have fond memories attached to delicious dinners care of my Abuela (grandmother). I remember standing in the kitchen watching and listening to her create all sorts of wonders - the sizzle of hot oil, the rhythmic smashing of tostones, and the amazing aromas of slow cooking meats. Despite the language barrier (she never learned a ton of English, and I sadly know even less Spanish) I was most comfortable in her presence when she was cooking.

Despite these memories, I have never actually attempted a proper authentic Cuban meal. So I set about making a "pernil" - a slow roasted pork shoulder, along with tostones y maduros (green and ripe plaintains) and then a not quite Cuban dish, pigeon pea rice.

The pernil had to be he star of the dinner table, so I focused the bulk of my efforts on it. I focused so much, that I sadly have no pictures to share. But I will share the process.

Saturday early afternoon, I prepared the marinade. First, I threw about a dozen garlic cloves in the food processor, along with a bunch of cilantro (bunch as in the unit they are sold in, not as in "a lot"), and about a handful of fresh oregano. Pulse. Then, I set about accomplishing an upper body workout in the midst of my prep work by hand juicing 4 oranges and 4 limes. I tossed the juice in with the garlic mixture and pulsed a bit more. This was followed by a slow pour of about 2 cups of olive oil with the processor on.

Before pouring the marinade over the pork shoulder, I scored the thick skin at the top, and then made several deep stabs through the skin and into the meat. I placed the shoulder in a deep bowl and covered it in the marinade, making sure that the juices made their way into the deep gashes in the shoulder. The pork was now ready to be covered and hang in the fridge until Sunday morning.

So, Sunday morn arrives - at about 10:30 I heat the oven to 425. Once the temp is reached, I threw the pork and part of the marinade in the pan, leaving it on 425 for about 20 minutes, then knocking it back to 325 and covering with foil.

Throughout the day I would lift the foil, baste, and return the foil to its place.

I used the rest of the day to clean, prepare the pigeon pea rice*, the tostones/maduros and all the last minute things you do when having people over.

At about 4:30, I removed the foil and raised the temp to 375. I shut the oven off at 5:15.

The outer skin was dark, but not burnt and the house smelled amazing. I could only hope that it tasted as good as it smelled.

By time everyone had arrived, I was just finishing frying up the plaintains and the table was full with rice, warm buttered Cuban bread, watercress, tostones, maduros, sangria, and finally, the pork.

My brother was asked to carve only to find that the shoulder fell apart as you touched it with the knife. Plates were passed around as everyone got ready to eat.

And I held my breath.

I should take this moment to point out that my mom is a good cook. My brother is a good cook. My father and sister are particular eaters. Feeling like they were all happy with the meal was going to be a very big deal to me.

And then, there it was. The compliments. Sincere, honest "mmmm's" coming from all the aforementioned people. And people going back for seconds.

It made the day of cooking and cleaning completely worthwhile. That, and the fact that I was getting to eat it too. And it was, indeed, yummy.

I think I might have done my Abuela proud.


  1. Sounds amazing. Wish we could have been there instead of just seeing the happy aftermath on Skype!

    (My local grocery store has stopped selling plantains! Apparently they weren't selling well enough in my neighborhood to make it worth it.)

  2. I wish you guys could have been here too! Next time you are down, we'll have to do this again :)