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On Cooking Southern: Cuban Pork/Plantains

pork-plantains-croppedDSCN3801Hankerin’ for a hunk o’ pork

By Laurie Triplette



Hankerin’: A strong desire for something, with a twist of nostalgia. Think the Merry Mobile during the hot summer months in Memphis. Just this past weekend, The Old Bride had an unfulfilled hankerin’ to attend the 50th Annual NC Azalea Festival in Wilmington—fondly remembering the long-gone rambling cottage on Wrightsville Beach, where exotic kites flew from the wraparound porch as long as our 16 were in the building.

Ahhh, It’s Grilling Time Again: Cuban-style Pork Roast with Mango and Corn Salsa and Roasted Plantains

For weeks, now, The Old Bride has been craving tropical culinary combinations of sweet, fruit-y and savory. Viewing displays of mangos and plantains and fresh ears of corn in the local grocery stores MUST have triggered that craving. … a craving intensified by consuming a scrumptious Brazilian meal with Hubby at the Final Four in Atlanta last week. Not to mention that half a bag of Cutie Clementine oranges has been screaming (metaphorically) to be consumed every time I opened the fridge door.

As the temperature climbed toward 80 this past weekend, I realized I was specifically hankerin’ for the smoky, grilled Afro-Caribbean flavors that that permeate the cuisine of the American South’s Gulf region. I get the craving every Spring, recollecting the time I curated a Latin American art collection for a Miami corporate headquarters. Those flavors from Cuba and Puerto Rico and Jamaica include stunning combinations of pork and mangos and bananas and citrus and exotic heat flavorings such as adobo.

The Cubano-Caribbean influence isn’t limited to Miami and south Florida. The flavors have spread across the Florida Panhandle, to the Bayou Country, into the Texas Gulf region, and on up our waterways into Dixie’s back country. Southern cooking, after all, is a distillation of every good-tasting flavor that ever passed through the region. If it tastes good, and “slept” here (like George Washington), we Southerners tweak it to accommodate what’s in the back yard, and then claim it as our own.


Rather than pork loin, which can become too dry, or pork shoulder, which is a MUST for pulled-pork barbecue, we used pork sirloin tip for this recipe. Available at Costco in packs of four, each pork sirloin tip weighs 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, and will feed four to six adults. NOTE: Pork sirloin tip is like beef sirloin tip – it’s the cut from the upper part of the loin, just in front of the round (rump), and is very lean and tender. For this Cuban-style roast, the spicy heat from the marinade permeates the entire roast, not just the crusty bark of the exterior. The mouth-filling flavor of the roasted pork tastes best when accompanied by piquant, sweet-citrus salsa and savory roasted plantains to offset the heat while enhancing the flavor. For less heat, reduce amount of red pepper.

1 head (yes, HEAD) of garlic, all cloves crushed and minced

2 T extra light olive oil

1 c fresh lime juice (7-10 limes, depending on the limes), or more, to taste

Juice of 2 Cutie Clementine oranges

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 to 2 T red pepper flakes (use smaller amount if you desire less heat)

2 T crushed oregano leaves

2 T onion powder

1 T (scant) cumin

2-1/2 to 3 lb pork sirloin tip roast, rinsed and patted dry

Combine all seasonings, juices, and olive oil in a large metal bowl and mix well. Add the pork roast, turning several times to coat, and pressing down to submerge. Ladle as much of the marinade on top of the pork as will stay. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

Place roast onto prepared, preheated grill set to medium heat. Close lid. While cooking the roast, place remaining marinade in a saucepan and boil for several minutes to kill bacteria, for use on roast while cooking. Cook roast slowly in closed grill approximately 2-1/2 hours, turning the roast twice, and ladling additional marinade over it each time. Check with meat thermometer to ensure that meat has reached a safe temperature between 135 and 140˚F. Remove from heat to rest 5-10 minutes; the pork will continue cooking and temperature will rise about 5 degrees.


mango-glassDSCN3786The Old Bride’s Southern twist on this classic Hispanic salsa includes fresh corn, fresh mint leaves from the back yard, and Captain Rodney’s Lime and Ginger Glaze from Tennessee.

3 medium ripe mangos, peeled, cut into half-inch cubes

2 ears corn, blanched and cut off the cob

1/2 to 1 c chopped white or red onion (more or less, to taste)

1/2 c fresh lime juice

Juice from 1 Cutie Clementine orange

1 to 2 T chopped mint leaves, or more to taste

1 medium jalapeno or 2 cubanelle or banana peppers, deseeded and chopped

1/2 to 1 c of Captain Rodney’s lime and ginger glaze, to taste

1 tsp chopped parsley, OPTIONAL

1 T fresh cilantro, chopped, OPTIONAL

Pinch of salt, optional

NOTE: To cube the flesh of a mango, first wash, dry and peel the fruit. The seed of a mango is strange to us Norteamericanos – one cannot separate it from the centermost part of the flesh. This is why true aficionados disappear into the kitchen closet to gnaw the uncut portions off the seed-center. One must cut long rows as far down to the center as possible, cutting away the fleshiest sides and cubing those first. Cut away as much as possible, but stop short of the hard flesh.

Bring salted water to a boil in a saucepan. Drop in ears of corn and boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove corn and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Once cooled, dry the ears and cut kernels off the cobs. Add to the cubed mango and mix in the chopped onion. In a separate bowl, combine the juices and toss into the mango-corn mixture. Add remaining ingredients, tossing gently with a large slotted spoon to blend flavors. Taste as you add the Captain Rodney’s, stopping before the salsa becomes too sweet or slushy. For more Mexican-style mango salsa, add the cilantro. Serve as a condiment or side with the Cuban-style pork roast.


One may drizzle the sugar-balsamic glaze over the cut-side of the plantains while on the grill, or serve as a condiment on the side, or toss with cubed, grilled plantain pieces before serving.

3 medium ripe plantains

1 c light brown sugar

1 stick salted butter

1 to 2 T balsamic red wine vinegar

3 T water

Slice the plantains lengthwise down the centers. When the pork roast is about 20 minutes from completion, place the plantains on the grill, cut-side down. Grill until heated through but not hard. While the plantains are grilling, combine the sugar, and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a low boil. Stir in the balsamic and water and boil about two to three minutes just to the caramelized stage. Remove from heat and cover until ready to serve with the grilled plantains.

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