When my Abuelo Pili roasted an entire pig in a Caja China, EVERYONE came over for dinner. It had been marinating for a day or two in a traditional mojo and then slow roasted for hours. That highly anticipated moment would come when four men brought it from roaster to table and placed it amidst rice, beans, yucca con mojo, and platanos fritos, while we stared with great intent.
Unless 50 to 100 hungry cousins are coming over or you don’t have (and can’t pronounce) Caja China, roasting an entire pig may be out of reach. Here are a couple of great alternative cuts that provide a comparably high flavor quotient:
- Boston Butt, also known as Bone In Pork Shoulder — a thick fat layer and connective tissue ensure great flavor and nearly mistake-proof, it’s really difficult to overcook this thing.
- “Green” bone-in ham, unprocessed, unsmoked, skin on — first, it’s not colored green; the term refers to the cut of meat BEFORE it’s processed. The ham is the leg and before it’s processed to be ham it’s pierna puerco and you can pick it up in any chain grocery stores in So. Florida. However get outside of that heavy Latin influence and you’ll want to ask the butcher (even the grocery store butcher) for a “green” bone-in ham with skin on.
For this recipe I used a Boston Butt, however I’ve also applied it to leg of pork and it works just as well, just increase your marinate ingredients.
- Salt — I consider pork to be “pre-seasoned” as it has a higher sodium level than say, chicken or beef. So the amount of salt I use is a little less than I’d use for another cut of meat and you can always sprinkle some on after the fact.
- Mortar and pestle — I use a mortar and pestle to mash together some of the marinate ingredients but you can use a blender or food processor. You’ll just have a slightly chunkier marinate.
So the Caja China, or “Chinese Box” is a really cool ingenious invention first seen in the “Chinatown” neighborhoods of Havana. It’s a large wooden box, big enough to fit an entire pig, with a slightly oversized lid — the lid was covered in sheet metal, likely aluminum. The pig would be set on a grill suspended “mid-rack” inside the box (there would be a pan at the bottom for drippings). When covered, hot coals were placed atop the lid so in effect the pig was broiled in this makeshift oven. Turns out the box was so effective it reduced cooking time and yielded a juicier meat than roasting over a spit.
When Cubans came to Miami they brought this idea with them and today they’re sold commercially. LaCajaChina.Com is considered by most to be the original and is now managed by its second and third generation family. Check out their site, on the homepage is a great video with Martha Stewart.
- 1 Boston Butt bone-in pork roast (5 - 7 lb)
- 8 cloves to 1 full head of garlic
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 2 - 3 tbsp. oregano, chopped (I use fresh but you can totally use dry, if so, just use 1 tbsp.)
- ½ tbsp. salt (you can add more if you like)
- ½ to ¾ tbsp. cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- ¾ cup lime juice (use fresh, not the bottled stuff)
- ¼ cup orange juice (if possible, use fresh or a packaged juice that's not from concentrate)
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste (adds a sweetness to the mojo)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 cup dry sherry (a cooking sherry will totally work here)
- 1 gallon-sized freezer zip bag
- Take the pork, fat side up, score down to the meat diagonally in a grid, scores about one inch apart (see picture in post).
- Combine the lime and orange juices, divide in two equal parts, set aside.
- Using a mortar and pestle, mash together the garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, and pepper. No mortar and pestle? Go get one, but in the meantime you can combine these in a food processor or even blender.
- Scoop the fragrant mash into a bowl, whisk in the olive oil, tomato paste, and one half of the juice until fully incorporated.
- Pour into the bag.
- Add the pork.
- Close the bag and work the marinate so that it gets in every nook and cranny, especially where you've scored.
- Re-open the bag, pour in the rest of the juice, the sherry, half of the sliced onions, and the bay leaves.
- Marinate overnight in the fridge, minimum 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Be sure to turn several times while it marinates.
- Remove pork from fridge, let it rest for one hour before roasting.
- Heat oven to 450.
- Place pork on rack in roasting pan, fat side up.
- Roast at 450 for about 20 min or until it begins browning on top.
- Reduce heat to 325 and continue roasting for about 2-3 hours or until internal temp reaches 170.
- Keep a watchful eye, if it gets too brown too soon, tent loosely with foil.
- Remove from heat, let it rest for about 15 min.
- Remove the crispy skin and set aside. Cut away any excess remaining fat from the top.
- Slice or shred the pork.
- Skim the fat from the pan drippings, set aside.
- In a skillet, sauté the remaining onions until tender, pour in the pan drippings, simmer for 10 min. Thicken with a slurry if you want. Pour over the sliced/shredded pork or serve at the table.
- Sprinkle the crisped skin over the top.
- Serve with rice and beans or moros, fried sweet plantains, and salad for a real Cuban experience. Or with roasted root veggies and a salad.