So we did it. We cooked a whole pig last Sunday, and it was fabulous.
We cooked a 37 lb pig on a caja china for my friends’ birthday. The pig turned out great. My buddies have done three or four of these pig roasts in the last year or so, but never before had I played an active role in the cooking of the pig. I am thoroughly convinced, that for that sole reason, this pig roast is by far the best they’ve done. I know, rather modest of me.
The first step to cooking a pig Cuban style is a good mojo. The mojo is this very garlicky, citrusy, herby marinade, best made with some olive oil (though some people do not use olive oil). I made a gallon of it for our guest of honor. Mojo is easy to make, and certainly you don’t need to make a gallon of it, and it’s equally good for chicken or smaller cuts of pork (like a roast or boston butt). I made a few changes to the traditional recipe with the addition of thyme and Mexican oregano (as opposed to traditional oregano). I like the Mexican variety more as it’s a bit more wild tasting and almost minty. I added fresh thyme because I had it from my goat escapade from last week.
2 cups of olive oil
30-40 cloves of garlic rough chopped
1 cup of wholed dried mexican oregano
small bunch of thyme (not traditional)
3/4 gallon sour orange juice (naranja agria or seville orange)
2-3 tbs black peppercorns
2-3 tbs cumin
salt to taste (a few tablespoons)
slowly heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the chopped garlic, black peppercorns, oregano, cumin, and thyme and let the oil steep and infuse a bit. Let the oil cool. Add oil to large bowl and whisk with sour orange juice. I tried to go all fresh sour orange (tough to find everywhere), but there weren’t enough sour oranges for 1 gallon’s worth of mojo. I ended up buying store bought sour orange juice. If you can’t find sour orange juice, you can use a mixture of 2 parts lime juice, 1 part lemon juice, 1 part grapefruit juice. I put the mixture in a 1 gallon container and added the salt and I shook the hell out of it to make sure it was emulsified.
Once the mojo is made, you’re basically half way done with the pig. We just took our pig and marinated it in the mojo overnight. We also pierced the thicker leg meat (the hams) so the marinade would seep in. Scoring the skin is also recommended if you are working with a bigger hog. This hog was actually relatively lean and thin-skinned.
So here is what we did. We set up the pig in a caja china. The caja china is a metal lined wooden box, that has a metal lid which rests the hot coals. the pig is butterflied and splayed on a metal frame. You must first start the pig skin side down. The caja china is essentially a broiler, so you must flip the pig near the end of cooking to get the skin crisp. We probably cooked the pig skin side down for 2 hours or so (adding a few coals to keep the fire hot), and flipped it over for the last hour. For the last 20 minutes or so we put a fresh batch of hot coals to aid in crisping the skin. Also as a trick to aid in the crisping of the skin, I basted the pig in a little bit of coconut water to get some extra caramelization (trick the Filipinos use in lechon baboy). We then let the pig rest for about 10-20 minutes, and then carved. The pig had crispy skin, and it was sticky and unctuous and very fragrant of porkiness and the garlicky mojo. Here are some pics of our handiwork: