Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cuban Style Barbecue Pork Shoulder

Every once in a while, a spark of culinary creativity ignites in my mind.  The fuel for that spark recently has come from a show called Barbecue Pitmasters, where three pit masters compete for a place in a large cooking competition and a equally large grand prize.  Every week, I watch these postmasters inject pork shoulders, beef briskets, turkeys and chickens with different combinations of liquid ingredients.  And, that got me to thinking.

I had been wanting to smoke a pork shoulder and I decided that I would try my hand at making an injection.  The pork shoulder I had in mind was a relatively small one, at about four and one-half pounds, but I thought I could make the injection and perhaps use the rest as a marinade.  The question turned to what could I use as an injection and a marinade.  One answer came immediately to mind ... a Cuban mojo.

Generally, in Cuban cuisine, a mojo is a sauce made with olive oil, garlic and citrus juice. It is often used as an accompaniment to starchy root vegetables, but it is also used as a marinade. The sauce is typically prepared in Cuba with sour oranges, but I have seen many a Cuban mojo recipe that also uses a combination of lemon juice and lime juice.  (This is done for those who may not have access to sour oranges.)  I have used some of those recipes in the past to make mojo marinades for Mahi-Mahi or Tuna.  A mojo is not just used as a marinade for fish, it can also be used to marinate other proteins, such as pork.  On this occasion, I did not use olive oil to make the mojo, because it did not make any sense to inject oil into the pork shoulder.  So, I substituted sherry vinegar, which along with the garlic, citrus juice (a combination of lemon and limes), and some spices, would become the mojo for the injection and the marinade. 

I also prepared a dry rub with spices that are available and used in Cuban cooking. These spices include cumin, coriander, red chiles, paprika and black pepper corns.  I applied that rub to the pork shoulder first and let the shoulder rest in the refrigerator for up to twenty-four hours.  I then injected the pork shoulder with the mojo and used the rest as a marinade for the meat.  The meat should marinate for at least four hours.  The citrus juice in the marinade will start "cooking" the meat, so I was a little hesitant to let it marinate for a long period of time.  At most, I would let it marinate overnight (but not a full day). 

Finally, there is the question of the wood to use during the smoke.  I decided to use pecan wood, but cherry or apple could work just as well.  The choice of wood should focus on something that will provide a delicate flavor but not something that would be too overwhelming.  It is important to ensure that the citrus flavors are able to shine through the smoke.

And, in the end, those citrus flavors from the lime juice and lemon juice are present in the flavor of the smoked pork shoulder.  Not only is the citrus flavor present, but so is some of the heat from the habanero and jalapeno.  I think for a recipe that I pretty much thought of out-of-the-blue, it worked out fairly well.  To be sure, there are probably tweaks that could make it better.  And, when I make it again, I will definitely add those improvements to this recipe.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves many

Ingredients (for the dry rub):
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds, toasted
1 1/2 tablespoon of black peppercorns, toasted
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of red chile powder (like ancho chile or cayenne)
1 tablespoon of paprika

1 boston butt pork shoulder (about 4.5 pounds)
Pecan wood for smoking

Ingredients (for the mojo):
1 cup of lime juice
3 1/2 cups of orange juice
1/4 cup of garlic, finely diced
1/4 cup of sherry vinegar
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of ground coriander
1 habanero pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced

1.  Marinate the pork shoulder.  Combine all of the dry rub ingredients.  Apply the rub to all sides of the pork shoulder.  Reserve some of the dry rub for later.  Wrap and refrigerate for up to twenty-four hours.

2.  Prepare the mojo.  Prepare the mojo by combining all of the ingredients for that wet rub.  You can inject some of the mojo into the pork shoulder.  Place the pork shoulder in a large Ziploc bag and add the mojo until the shoulder is submerged.  Let the shoulder rest for at least four hours or overnight.  Reserve some of the mojo for use later.

3.  Smoke the pork shoulder.  Bring the smoker to about 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add a couple pieces of pecan wood.  Place the shoulder in the smoker.   The shoulder should be smoked for about 1 1/2 hours for each pound of pork and until the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit (for slicing) or at least 195 degrees for pulling.  After four hours, I sometimes wrap the shoulder to help maintain its moisture and ensure that it does not get too much smoke.

4.  Finish the dish.  After the shoulder reaches the desired temperature, remove it and, if you have not already wrapped it, wrap the shoulder in foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes, if not 1 hour.  After it has rested, you can pull, chop or slice it however you want.


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