Lechon is part of every holiday celebration at the home of any self-respecting Cuban. Once you take one succulent, garlicky bite, you’ll see why. The bonus with lechon…leftovers to make Cuban sandwiches. Lechon Asado couldn’t be easier to make and it really is a great way to feed a crowd. There are days I toss the pan in the oven, set the oven to do its mystical, magical timed-cook-thing while I go off to work. You can make this in the slow-cooker, as well, but you lose the crispy outside layer, but the meat will still have a wonderful flavor and be meltingly tender. I’m drooling right now, just thinking about it, and me drooling…yeah it’s not a pretty picture!
Lechon Asado can refer to the whole pig, but that won’t be happening anytime soon seeing how the ground is frozen, so a pork butt will do nicely; this is the cut I prefer. It isn’t actually from the behind of the pig, but it’s really the shoulder. I think Cubans usually prefer the pork leg or fresh ham. Usually these cuts come with a fat cap and skin attached. For Cubans, the skin is a delicacy; the skin absorbs some of the rub flavor, gets shatteringly crispy and is served alongside the pork or given to errant guests as they wander through the kitchen. Being a heretic, I prefer no skin. The reason…I like the dry rub to caramelize and get crispy on the meat itself. I do indeed leave the fat cap in tact, though; the fat self-bastes the meat. You can either do bone-in (I think the bone adds flavor) or boneless (cooks faster and is easier to cut/pull) butt. By the way, do NOT use a pork loin or tenderloin; you can use the rub in the recipe on either cut, but the cooking method will be totally different…another time.
Cuban Roast Pork (Lechon Asado)
- 1 (8 lb) pork shoulder or butt, boneless or bone-in
- 10-12 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2-3 large onions, sliced
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2-3 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 2-3 teaspoons ground cumin (I prefer to toast this in a dry skillet for about 20 seconds)
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons smoked sweet paprika
- 3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
- Juice of 1 large lime juice
- 1 large orange, sliced (optional)
- 1 bottle beer
The day (or 2) before you plan to serve this dish, trim the excess fat off the pork leg (I leave at least 1/4-inch of fat cap); place the onions in the bottom of a roasting pan or heavy foil pan. Lay the hunk of meat on top. Set aside.
Dump the orange juice concentrate (This acts like “glue” to help the garlic mixture adhere to the meat), the garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, pepper and smoked paprika on top of the meat; squeeze the lime over and rub the mixture into the meat. If you are using a boneless butt, get some of the juices and garlic mixture into the interior of the meat, where the bone has been cut away. Rub the garlic mixture on, and in the meat well; place bay leaves and the orange slices, if using evenly over the meat. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, remove the meat from the fridge (and remove the foil/plastic wrap), let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour (if using a foil pan, place the pan on a cookie sheet to facilitate moving the pan in and out of the oven). Pour the beer around, not over the meat. Place the pan in a preheated 275°F oven and roast for at least 6-8 hours or until the meat is meltingly tender.
Carefully (the meat has a tendency to fall off the bone or fall apart) move the meat to a platter. You may pull the meat apart with your hands or 2 forks, or simply slice it. Take the juice that has accumulated in the pan and very carefully (it’s extremely hot and you can get a nasty burn) pour into a sauce pan or skillet. Skim as much fat as possible and cook until reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2. Serve along side or over the meat. Leftover pork makes a great Sandwich Cubano.
Cuban Roast Pork Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2014. All Rights Reserved.
To remove the fat, you will handle this just the way you think you would. Again, a very sharp knife and you simply cut away the fat, down to about 1/4-inch, but you want to leave some. When the fat melts, it helps keep the meat moist. Besides, you can dispose of most of the rendered (melted) fat after cooking.
Dump all the rub ingredients on the meat. The orange juice concentrate will act as “glue” to keep all the other ingredients from jumping off and running around like fools instead of staying put.
You’re going to get much more personal with this pork butt that you probably imagined.
Really work all the rub ingredients into the meat, making certain to get it inside, if you’re using a boneless butt like this one.
Make certain you let the meat rest loosely covered with foil. While it has its little 10-15 minutes power nap, I remove as much of the melted fat as possible. There will be quite a bit of it. Very carefully, this is very hot liquid, pour the degreased drippings into a saucepan. Remove the bay leaves. You can use your immersion blender and purée the whole mess or just leave it as is, boil it down to thicken it slightly or thicken it with a roux. Cut or pull the pork. Serve as is, with mojo, or with lime wedges on the side.
The Slow-Cooker Route: If you decide to go the slow-cooker route and you have a more up-to-date slow cooker, you may want to cook on LOW for 5 hours, then let the machine switch to WARM for another 3-4 hours, to finish the cooking process. If your slow-cooker does not have the WARM feature, then I would cook it for about 6-7 hours on LOW. However, I would check for doneness after 5 hours. This is a pretty forgiving piece of meat. Also, I only use about half the bottle of beer and add more if you need it, but you probably won’t need it. If you are able to turn the meat about half-way through, then do so, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.
Anytime you make Lechon Asado for those you love, it’s a very special occasion. The Goddess and her minions hope you will make this for Christmas and share the love with those around you. Tomorrow you’ll find out how to use the leftovers to make a Yankee Cuban Sandwich. Make some memories. Féliz Navidad!