A great Cubano depends on great pork, and this Cuban pork recipe is just as perfect on its own as it is stuffed into a classic Cuban sandwich. (August 23 happens to be National Cuban Sandwich Day, in case you needed an excuse to make this.)
Summer is still with us, but autumn will soon be in the air; the leaves will change and fall to the ground and warm sunlight will be a distant memory. Wile you can’t stop the inevitable, with the right meal you can transport yourself to the tropics even in the icy grip of winter. So, next stop: Cuba. We’ll show you how to make the most delicious Cuban pulled pork you’ve ever tasted, whether you’ve got a slow cooker or you’re just using your oven. We’ll also show you how to turn those leftovers into a savory Cuban sandwich, the perfect lunchtime treat.
8-10 lb Pork Butt, $56 from Porter Road
This is a common name for pork shoulder, which will be the star here.
Step One: Marinate Your Meat
First things first: making your mojo, the secret sauce that will transform “the other white meat” into your favorite meat ever. Nuances may differ from kitchen to Cuban kitchen, but the main ingredients are olive oil, garlic, and citrus juices. You’ll use this to marinate your pork and to sauce the finished dish (but it’s also great for many other things).
- 4-6 pounds boneless pork shoulder (rind removed if using the slow cooker; keep any skin intact if roasting for the crunch)
- 8 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup fresh juice from 1-2 oranges + zest from 1 orange
- 1/4 cup fresh juice from 3-4 limes + zest from 1 lime
- 1 yellow onion, thickly slices
- Kosher salt (or sea salt)
1. In a large bowl, combine the garlic, pepper, cumin, oregano, cilantro, white wine, and olive oil. Add fresh-squeezed orange juice and zest of one orange; add fresh-squeezed lime juice and zest of one lime (traditionally, mojo contains bitter Seville orange juice, but as that can be hard to come by, combining regular orange juice and lime juice works to mimic its flavor; some sources suggest adding grapefruit juice and white vinegar to the mix). Whisk briskly and season to taste with salt; anywhere between 2-4 teaspoons should do the trick. Whisk again and congratulations, you’ve got your mojo.
2. Pour half of it into a sealed container and refrigerate. You’ll use it later.
3. Rinse the pork shoulder and pat dry. Cut into large cubes (about three inches thick) and sprinkle on a few pinches of salt. Feel free to release your inner-salt bae. Now take the remaining half of your mojo and pour it all over the pork cubes, immersing completely. Transfer pork and marinade to a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours (or better yet, overnight!).
4. Be sure to remove your mojo-marinated pork from the fridge 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook to bring it to room temperature.
As for the actual cooking process, you have two options:
If You’re Using a Slow Cooker or a Crock-Pot…
Preheat your slow cooker on high. Place sliced onions on bottom, add pork cubes, and pour all of that delicious mojo marinade into the slow cooker (from the gallon bag you used to refrigerate it; you’re not using the other half of the mojo you reserved quite yet). Cover with lid and turn heat down to low. Leave it cooking on low heat for 8–10 hours. If you’re pressed for time, no problem! Simply cook on high for 4-5 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when the pork is so tender, it practically falls apart.
Grab two forks and, in a motion that is pulling away from each other, separate the meat into smaller strands and stir together with the mojo marinade, combining completely to make sure the flavor is distributed evenly throughout the shredded pork. Add your remaining mojo (but you’ll want to save a bit for lunch tomorrow).
Related Reading: How to Use Your Instant Pot as a Slow Cooker
If You’re Using an Oven…
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; preheat oven to 275°F. Use a rimmed baking sheet and line it with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Add sliced onions, then pork and mojo marinade, fold up the foil and crimp to seal loosely, leaving room for air to circulate. Place in preheated oven and roast for three hours.
Next, fold back the foil and increase oven temperature to 325°F. Continue roasting for 2-3 hours, occasionally basting the pork with pan juices. You’ll know it’s ready when the pork’s surface is browned and crackly, and the meat shows no resistance to a fork and knife. Remove from oven and let rest for about 15 minutes before shredding.
Pour one cup of accumulated pork juices into a bowl and discard the rest. Add the rest of your reserved mojo (but save a little bit for lunch tomorrow) to bowl of pork drippings, whisk briskly and season to taste with salt.
Not Into Pulled Pork?
No problem. You can add that mojo to black beans or chili instead. Black beans are as quintessential to Cuban culture as hand-rolled cigars and a good game of dominoes. Simply add 1/4 cup of mojo to two cans of black beans, rinsed and drained. Bring the beans just to boil over medium heat, then reduce to medium-low. Add a pinch of cumin and onion powder, salt to taste.
To turn this side dish into a whole meal, simply add a pound of ground meat and call it Cuban Chili. Dealer’s choice on the kind of meat: beef or pork work just as well as chicken and turkey.
Got Leftover Pork?
Yeah, you do. Use it to give your traditional Cuban sandwich an upgrade.
Your standard pulled pork sandwich is always great, but a Cubano is even better. A loaf of Cuban bread is ideal, but that can be hard to find for anyone not living in South Florida. Don’t be discouraged; simply substitute with fresh loaves of French or Italian bread.
Spread on a light smear of mayonnaise, add your mojo-marinated pork, thinly-sliced ham, and Swiss cheese. Finish with a squirt of mustard and a handful of dill pickle chips. Bonus points if you have a sandwich press or panini maker, in which case you’ve just discovered your new favorite go-to pressed sandwich: THE Cuban (or Medianoche, which translates to Midnight).
George Foreman Panini Press, $24.96 from Amazon
Gets the job done: toasty bread and melty cheese.
If all you have is a waffle iron, that also works.
Or just keep it simple. Some of the best things are simple. No better example of this exists than pan con lechón (literally, “bread with pork”). As the name suggests, you simply heap a big helping of your delicious mojo-marinated pork on a loaf of Cuban bread. That’s it. Feel free to crank it up by drizzling more mojo marinade on your sandwich, topping with crisp dill pickle chips, and pressing to a nice light crisp (see Medianoche above).
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.