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BBQ Cuban Style

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Test kitchen manager Juli Roberts celebrates summer with a barbecue featuring the bold flavors and bright colors of her mother’s native country.

My mother was born in Cuba, but fled the island country with her mom and her sister in 1959. Although she’s never gone back, she’s always shared her heritage with us through food and through connections with the large Cuban community in Queens, New York, where she, my aunt, and my abuela (grandmother) settled and where she met and married my dad (who’s Costa Rican). When my brother and I were kids, my parents would take us to Cuban gatherings in Flushing Meadows Park, where we’d gorge on traditional foods. There, sitting around a big table on a hot blue-sky day, with the scent of barbecue in the air, listening to the slap of dominoes keeping time with the mambo music and catching up with friends and family in loud and fast Spanish, I could get a glimpse of what life in Cuba was like—the good parts, anyway.

Now that I’m married with kids of my own, I’m the one who hosts our multigenerational family gatherings. Though my parties are no longer exclusively Cuban (my husband is Scottish), I serve the same dishes we enjoyed in Flushing Meadows, like a refreshing pineapple and avocado salad and congri, the most soothingly delicious food you’ll ever eat, even though it’s simply beans and rice.

The centerpiece of the meal is a slow-cooked pork shoulder bathed in a garlicky, citrusy mojo, which could be called Cuba’s national sauce. As the pork gently cooks on the grill, its skin crisps up to crackly goodness. Those in the know stay close by when the pork comes off the grill because they realize a treat is coming their way. Before serving the meat, I take the crisp skin off and cut it into bite-size pieces perfect for dipping into the mojo. There’s usually not enough chicharrones (pork cracklings) for everyone, and they go fast.

The rest of the meal is served family-style. As the platters are passed around, there are a dozen different conversations going on, yet somehow everyone’s involved in all of them. It gets a little quieter only when the plates are full and we’re too busy eating to talk (at least not quite as much, anyway).

Menu Timeline

2 days ahead:

  • Make the congri (do not add the cilantro) and refrigerate in a covered container.
  • Make and freeze the ice cream.

1 day ahead:

  • Prep the pork with the mojo. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

9 hours ahead:

  • Remove the pork from the refrigerator and set up your grill.

8 hours ahead:

  • Begin cooking the pork.
  • Rim the cocktail glasses and put them in the freezer.

2 hours ahead:

  • Cook the reserved mojo from the pork with the onion, olive oil, and lemon juice.
  • Fry the plantains; set aside uncovered at room temperature.

1 hour ahead:

  • Make the avocado-pineapple salad
  • Make the boiled yuca
  • When the pork is done, remove from the grill and tent with foil.

As guests arrive:

  • Make the cocktails.
  • Cut the pork cracklings into pieces and serve.

Just before dinner:

  • Reheat the congri in a microwave. Stir in the cilantro and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Reheat the plantains in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes.

Shopping List

The Hemingway Special recipe has been scaled up in the shopping list to make 10 servings

Fresh Produce

  • 1 small pineapple (about 2-1/2 lb.)
  • 2 medium grapefruits
  • 2 medium oranges
  • 8 large lemons (1/4 cup per lemon)
  • 16 limes (2 Tbs. juice per lime)
  • 4 very ripe, dark-brown plantains (2 lb.)
  • 1 large Florida avocado or 2 medium Hass avocados
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 medium and 2 small red onions
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 6 bulbs (65 cloves) garlic
  • 1 habanero chile
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 small bunch fresh oregano

Meat & Dairy

  • 1 6- to 8-lb. bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder
  • 4 strips bacon
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz. cream cheese

Other Groceries

  • 3 lb. frozen, peeled yuca
  • 1 lb. dried black beans
  • 3 cups long-grain white rice
  • 1-1/4 cups turbinado (“raw”) sugar
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 oz. (about 1/2 cup) guava paste or guava jelly, preferably Goya brand
  • 20 fl. oz. white rum, preferably Havana Club Añejo 3 años
  • 10 fl. oz. maraschino liqueur
  • Ice cream cones or “cigar” cookies (optional)
  • 1 jar maraschino cherries

Pantry Staples

  • 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbs. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
  • Vegetable or canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns

The Menu

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