Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cuban Mojo Marinated Pork Shoulder

This Cuban-style favorite is juicy and succulent with garlic and citrus flavors.

Julian's Cuban Mojo Roasted Pork
Over the years I've made and shared with you many recipes for pork shoulder, which is such a flavorful cut of meat when properly prepared. The trouble is, many don't cook it properly and it sometimes has the reputation of being a cheap, tough cut of pork. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pulled Pork Shoulder
The key is cooking it slowly over a low heat (6-8 hours) so that the connective tissues have the chance to break down and let the meat become pull-apart tender. While the salt in the mojo marinade does provide a basic brine technique, well known to keep meat juicy, nothing is more important than a slow roast. Forget any recipe that states cooking to a specific temperature when talking about a pork shoulder. You can use a traditional oven or slow cooker (Crockpot) for this recipe.

Whole Pork Shoulder Roast, Resting before Shredding
What is mojo?
The basic marinade for a Cuban-style pork roast is called mojo.  It is a a sauce made with the juice of sour oranges, garlic, oregano, cumin, and olive oil. There are many versions of this marinade and you can be loose with your selection of ingredients. What's nearly impossible to find here in the USA are the sour oranges called for in the traditional recipes. So we substitute by mixing juice from regular Florida juice oranges with fresh squeezed lime juice. I chop and mix my ingredients in the food processor to save time, but you certainly can do this with a knife.

Mojo marinated pork shoulder, ready for oven roasting.
I like to serve the pulled pork with steamed white rice and shredded salad on plate. Reserve a little of the mojo to garnish each serving.

Ingredients (Serves 6)

1 fresh juice orange
1 fresh lime
1 bunch cilantro leaves
1 small bunch mint leaves
8 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons course salt and 5-6 fresh grinds of black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 pounds, bone-in pork shoulder


Make the mojo: Zest and juice the orange. Juice the lime. Add the orange and lime juice, cilantro leaves, mint leaves, garlic cloves, oregano and cumin to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped (or do this by hand with a knife). Add the orange zest, salt, pepper and olive oil. Stir to combine.

Place the pork shoulder in a zip lock bag or a covered dish. Reserve 1/4 cup of the mojo to an airtight container and refrigerate. Add the remaining mojo to the pork shoulder and turn to coat completely. Place the mojo coated shoulder into the refrigerator for 24-48 hours. Turn at least once during refrigeration to ensure even coating.

Roast the pork (oven):  Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Remove the marinated pork shoulder from the refrigerator and transfer the meat to a roasting pan still coated in its mojo. Let sit at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes. Use of a roasting rack is optional. Discard the marinade that remains in the bag/container. Roast the pork for 30 minutes at 400F uncovered. It should be lightly browned. Add a cup or two of water to the pan. Reduce oven temperature to 250F degrees and cover the roast with a lid or foil. Cook for another 6-8 hours or until fork tender. Check the roast ever hour while cooking and baste with drippings while you have it open. Add additional water to the roasting pan if needed to stop drippings from burning. Generally this is only necessary at the beginning of the roasting, as the meat will produce significant amount of drippings when covered during cooking.

Roast the pork (slow cooker): If using a slow cooker (Crockpot) follow the same directions above, but place in the slow cooker instead of the oven, fat side down. Cook the first 30 minutes on high uncovered, turning over after 15 minutes. The turn the slow cooker to low, cover and cook for 6-8 hours until fork tender.

Prepare to serve:  Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let rest 20-30 minutes. Wait 10 minutes for the pan drippings to cool and add two tablespoons of the drippings to the reserved mojo and stir to combine. Shred the pork roast and toss lightly in some of the pan drippings. Serve reserved mojo over the pulled pieces of pork with a side of white rice.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Bucatini Cacio e Pepe or Pasta with Crushed Black Pepper and Pecorino Cheese

It's been called an adult version of Mac and Cheese, although I never think of it that way. I suppose if you added more cheese than I do, it might taste similar. But I'm making the classic and now once again quite popular restaurant dish favored throughout Italy. So we have more of an emphasis on the black pepper taste than a gooey cheesy meal.

Julian's Creamy Cacio e Pepe
Cacio is the local Roman dialect word for Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s-milk cheese made in the region since ancient times. The word pepe means pepper. Cacio e pepe is a relative newcomer to the Roman repertoire, first appearing in the mid-twentieth century. The pasta is tossed with a sauce of Pecorino cheese and black pepper that is bound by starchy pasta cooking water. To improve moisture on the plate, I add a little olive oil.

Finely grated Pecorino cheese and very hot water are essential to a smooth sauce, while fresh, coarsely ground black pepper gives flavor and texture. The most important component of a flawless cacio e pepe, however, is speed. If the water cools before melting the cheese, the sauce will clump. I find having a helper is best when making this dish. One person tosses the hot pasta while the tosses in the cheese, pepper, pasta water and olive oil.

Julian grating cheese in Italy.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Salt for the pasta water
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns,
     or more to your taste
1 pound pasta noodles of your choice
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Pecorino cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Olive oil, 3 tablespoons

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, grind the peppercorns very coarsely. Note that the measurement of peppercorns is done BEFORE grinding.

Cook the pasta until al dente (just a bit chewy). Scoop out and reserve 2 cups of the starchy hot pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it to the hot pot it cooked in. Work quickly.

Immediately scatter most of the grated cheese and most of the ground pepper on the pasta, and toss together quickly. As you mix, add a little of the reserved hot water to moisten and amalgamate the pasta with the cheese. Add more water as necessary to create a creamy sauce. Toss with a little olive oil to lubricate further, as the pasta will continue to absorb the water and it may become too dry as it cools without the oil. Sprinkle the top of the pasta with the remaining cheese and pepper. Serve while the pasta is hot.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Julian's Thanksgiving Buffet

Most families in America gather together for Thanksgiving and this usually means feeding a crowd. As such, the buffet is usually the way to go as you may have people dining at multiple tables.

Julian's Thanksgiving Dining Room Table
Further the large number of dishes prepared often makes it impracticable to try and and place them on the dining tables themselves.  So we lay out the dishes on a buffet and let everyone take what they like best. Most will make several trips to enjoy this full holiday feast.

This year on the buffet I have a cranberry jello salad, chestnut stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, corn bread, ham and of course, a roasted turkey. 

As I'm having ten guests for dinner, I've set an additional table in the kitchen that coordinates with the dining room, so no one feels left out. In year's past I've also added a separate table in the kitchen area that seats another six persons. Thankfully, I have a large set of Lenox Eternal cream colored china that can be used on any occasion. With this basic set of china table service, you can simply change up the table linen and center pieces to match any occasion. 

Carved Roasted Turkey
Of course, the turkey is the center of everyone's holiday feast. Most people only eat turkey this one time per year. If you're having a big crowd you might consider making more than one or roasting an additional breast, as white meat seems to be the favorite. I always brine then roast my turkey and you can follow the link to my pictorial step-by-step instructions to ensure the very best, juiciest roasted turkey you will ever serve.

Baked Ham
To add some variety, this year I also prepared a ham. Just remember that most ham comes pre-cooked and ready to eat and only requires the most gentle warming before serving. For info on ham preparation, check my blog post here.

Julian's Green Bean Casserole
Julian's Chestnut Dressing with Sausage
Of course, the classic green bean casserole and chestnut stuffing are pretty standard dishes and if you don't prepare them expect people to ask. So I always make them for the holidays. The dressing is more time consuming but can be prepared a day in advance and baked on Thanksgiving. My detailed recipe instructions are available to assist you.

Julian's Dessert Buffet
After everyone's had the chance to rest a bit, it's time for the dessert selections. This year I've made a couple pies (pumpkin and pecan) and some chocolate mousse cups. A friend brought the lovely pineapple upside down cake. With some coffee, these will hit the spot. We may need a nap afterwards!

Julian's Thanksgiving Chocolate Mousse Cups
My our homes to yours, best wishes for a joyous Thanksgiving feast!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Pan Fried Chicken with Rice

My mother frequently prepared pan-fried chicken, which was not a deep fried crispy chicken like you might get at KFC. Rather, this is chicken that has been dipped in seasoned flour and shallow pan fried in a combination of oil and butter, then baked.

Julian's Pan Fried Chicken with Rice
The purpose of the pan fry is to provide a browned crust and not to cook the chicken through, as this occurs in the oven along with the rice. The baking process helps to flavor the rice as the chicken finishes cooking and gives off its juices.

Julian in the Kitchen in Italy
While any cuts of chicken can be prepared this way, it's ideal to use bone-in, skin-on pieces of chicken. To ensure even cooking, I usually just purchase legs, wings and sometimes thighs for this recipe. If you prefer, you can fold the tips of the wings under for a neater V-shaped appearance.

I'm using two kinds of rice as that's all the store had.
For the rice, you can use any rice you prefer. I like to use a yellow rice mix. You cook the rice until nearly done before adding with the chicken for the final oven bake.

Pan frying the chicken.
Cut up chicken pieces, bone-in, skin-on
   6-8 legs and 6-8 wings
2 cups flour
Italian dry seasoning to taste (or
     dried chopped basil, oregano, garlic, onion, paprika)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
Prepared cooked rice

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Mix the flour and seasonings in a bowl or pie plate. Use more seasonings than you might think is necessary to ensure full flavor. I usually use a teaspoon each of basil, oregano, garlic, onion powder and 2 teaspoons paprika. Add salt and pepper.

Place the rice in a pot to cook according to the package directions. Heat half the oil and butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Preheat your oven to 325F degrees.

Roll the chicken pieces in the flour, one at a time until you have coated just enough to fill your frying pan. Do not coat any pieces that won't fit into the first batch of frying. Brown the chicken on all sides and then remove to a plate. Prepare the second batch the same way and continue until all chicken is fried.

Place the cooked rice in a large shallow baking dish (here I'm using a 9 x 12 inch glass dish). Place the browned chicken pieces on top and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the largest pieces are cooked through and tender. Serve with green vegetable.

Fresh from the oven and ready to serve.