Traditionally Cuban roast pork is made with either pork shoulder or pork loin roast. While these are both fine cuts of meat, I think there is something to be said for roasting a picnic shoulder. The picnic shoulder is basically a roast take from the front of the hog’s shoulder. Where a Boston butt or pork shoulder includes the scapula bone, the picnic shoulder is from the top of the humerus and often includes the ball joint.
For every Boston butt on the market there is a picnic shoulder, Boston butt continues to grow in popularity while the picnic shoulder often goes ignored or is smoked and sliced into mock ham steaks. This means you can usually get a picnic shoulder for a better price!
When it comes to the debate on brining lean cuts of pork, the hazy line is drawn at the picnic shoulder. In general the picnic shoulder has just enough fat and connective tissue that it could be dry roasted and still give you moist meat in the final product. At the same time because most picnic shoulders come with a fair amount of skin, you don’t really get a lot of mileage out of a dry rub.
This recipe calls for oven roasting but you could just as easily slow smoke it if you have a charcoal grill. However if you decide to smoke it, then I would forego the brine and instead score the skin and rub it aggressively before putting it up for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Brines tend to interfere with the relationship between smoke and the ability of rendered fat to carry those flavors deep into the meat.
This recipe calls for using a modified brine that has been enhanced with garlic and citrus, making it just more of a marinade.
In classic Cuban cuisine roast pork is usually reserved for a pressed cubano sandwich or served with rice and peas. However in the Dominican Republic they make a plantain side dish known as Tostones. Tostones are pretty simple to make. You peel the plantains, cut into two inch chunks, then blanch them, press them out and fry them to make a sort thick chip with a soft starchy interior and a crisp outer crust.
When it comes to a sauce if Aji Dulce peppers are in season in the garden or farmers market, then I like to make a sofrito. Otherwise a basic pico de gallo will work and play well with the roast pork as well as the tostones.
Roasting pan with roasting rack
Heavy duty tinfoil
12-inch frying pan
Clip on fry thermometer or infrared thermometer
Spider strainer or slotted spoon
Ingredients for Cuban pork roast
4 to 5 pound picnic shoulder roast
Bag of ice
½ cup of honey
1 cup of pickling salt
Half a gallon of distilled water
2 tablespoons of whole black peppercorns
3 cups of orange juice
10 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of cumin
Ingredients for the Tostones
2 unripe plantains
½ cup of duck fat
1 teaspoon of sea salt
½ teaspoon of cumin
Here is how to make a delicious Cuban-Style Roast Pork
Step 1: Pour the water, salt, minced garlic, orange juice and honey into a medium stock pot over medium-low heat. Stir until the salt and honey are completely dissolved. Then add the black pepper.
Step 2: Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cumin and stir to combine.
Step 3: Add a few large handfuls of ice and stir until they melt. Keep adding handfuls of ice until the brine is colder than room temp and the ice no longer easily melts.
Step 4: Add the pork to the pot and place in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
Step 5: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
Step 6: Place the roast in a rack in your roasting pan. If you don’t have a roasting rack you can improvise with some tuna cans that have the top and bottom removed. However I think the better option is to cut a bunch of red onions in half and made a bed to lay the picnic shoulder over. With the slow roasting the aromatic onion flavor will transfer to the meat.
Step 7: Roast fir 3½ to 4 hours or until the meat is tender and reads an internal temperature of 190 to 200 degrees.
Step 8: Remove the picnic shoulder from the oven, tent under heavy duty tinfoil. Lay a clean tea towel over the foil to help retain heat while it rests. Allow the roast to rest for 20 to 30 minutes while you prepare the tostones.
Step 9: Peel the plantains and cut them into 1½ to 2 inch chunks.
Step 10: Place a large sauce pot of water over high heat. Put the plantain chunks in when the water comes to a boil. Blanch in the boiling water for 4 minutes. Pull one out of the water and try to press it down with a sturdy spatula. If it is still very firm, allow them to simmer for another minute or two. If it presses down with only modest resistance then you can remove all of them with a spider strainer or slotted spoon.
Step 11: Pat the chunks of plantain dry with paper towels.
Step 12: Melt a half cup of duck fat in a 12-inch frying pan, set your thermometer for a target temperature of 375 degrees.
Step 13: Use a sturdy spatula to press the plantains down until they are about half an inch thick. Make sure there is no water on the spider strainer. Then lower the plantain chips into the duck fat. Fry for a 2 to 3 minutes then flip and fry for another 1 to 2 minutes or until the tostones are golden brown on each side.
Step 14: Remove the tostones from the saucepan to a cooling rack. Season them on both sides with salt and cumin.
Step 15: Shred the roasted picnic shoulder with two forks. I prefer bite sized chunks of pork, while others like a complete shred.
Serve the pork and tostones together with a sofrito or pico de gallo. While it’s not traditional, I like to also pair this with a side dish of Italian slaw, from the salads chapter of Paleo for Real People.
For a beverage I like Jamaican beer but in all honesty a cold glass of orange juice also works well with the mild citrus flavors in the pork.