Slow Cooked Cuban Pork
As I’ve mentioned, last year we bought a whole pig from a farm in Oregon. And while I love pork in all its forms, the one thing I could live without is a traditional cured ham. I’m talking about the kind of ham that’s served for Christmas dinner or the kind of ham on a sandwich. This poses a bit of a problem because our pig came with no fewer than 4 pieces of “fresh ham” ranging from about 4 to over 6 lbs each. What to do with the hams? Note, these hams are also commonly called pork butt and pork shoulder.
Basically, the cuts labeled fresh ham are just smaller pieces from the whole leg and can be cooked as a typical pork roast. Fortunately, one is not required to cover it with pineapple slices and cloves and serve it on a platter while wearing pearls and a frilly apron. No, my ham is going to get down and dirty, cooked low and slow until tender, and be eaten with our hands in little tacos. Ok, I might still wear the pearls and frilly apron, but there will be no cloves.
Even though I knew I was going to cook this in the slow cooker, I decided to marinate it overnight before cooking, in hopes of tenderizing it and really infusing it with the flavors. This cut of meat does not have as much fat or connective tissue as a pork shoulder, so it tends to be firmer when cooked. It cooked it for about 10 hours in a slow cooker (aka crock pot) but it was ready to eat after about 6 hours. It came out very tender, and the marinade in which it cooked, along with some of the fat from the side of the ham, kept it incredibly moist.
The flavor inspiration for this dish came from the traditional Cuban Lechon Asado which incorporates sour orange, garlic, oregano and cumin into the marinade. Traditionally, it’s cooked as a whole roasted pig and served with black beans and rice, but I had a craving for those little tacos so I’ve substituted the rice for small 4″ corn tortillas which happen to be very easy to find here in Southern California. If you don’t want to do tacos, of course you can eat this pork with rice or any other way you want, just leave off studding it with cloves, please.
Do you have a favorite way to cook a fresh ham that’s not typical?
Slow-Cooked Cuban Pork
- 4-5 lb fresh ham pork butt or pork shoulder
- 2 each fresh oranges juiced
- 3 each limes juiced
- 2 each lemons juiced
- 6-7 each garlic cloves
- 2 Tbsp dried oregano
- .25 pz fresh oregano
- 2 each dried California chilies
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 oz olive oil
- 2 each bay leaves
- 1 each yellow onion sliced
The day before, for the marinade:
- Juice the oranges, limes and lemons through a strainer to remove the seeds. Combined you should have about 1.25 cups of juice.
- Crush the garlic cloves, fresh and dried oregano and dried chilies together in a mortar and pestle. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, finely mince the garlic, chop the chilies and fresh oregano, and combine with the dried oregano in a small bowl. To that mixture, add the cumin, salt and pepper. Mix with the olive oil to form a paste.
- With a sharp knife, score the fat side of the ham with 1" cuts. Rub the seasoning paste all over the fresh ham.
- Cut the onion in half and slice crosswise into thin strips.
- Place the pork in a large zip lock bag, or a container in which it fits snugly and can be covered. I put mine in a 1 gallon zip lock bag and was able to fit the pork in there by cutting it in half. Add the sliced onions and the citrus juice and make sure it is well covered in the marinade. If you have it in another container, make sure it is covered with plastic wrap and not exposed to the air.
- Marinate overnight in the refrigerator or at least 8 hours. I put mine in the marinade mid-afternoon the day before and turned the bag over once before I went to bed.
To cook the pork:
- In a large heavy bottomed saute pan, heat 1 Tbsp of oil. Remove the meat from the marinade, shaking off any excess. Reserve the marinade.
- Cut the ham in half if that will make cooking it any easier. Remember, it's going to be shredded anyway. Sear the meat on all sides. Yes, you can put meat into the slow cooker without searing it first, but I like the extra flavor you get from browning the meat. The goal here is to render off a little of the fat and get some of the flavor you would get from roasting in the oven that you don't get in a slow cooker.
- Set the slow cooker on high and put the piece with the most fat on it fat side down into the cooker. Pour over half the reserved marinade, including the onions. Put the other piece on top and pour over the rest of the marinade. Put the lid on and don't worry about it for the rest of the day, that's the beauty of a slow cooker. Try to resist the temptation to lift the lid and pull off a piece "just to check it." Needless to say, I failed miserably at this.
- I put mine in, on high at 8am and then turned it down to low at 11am. It was probably ready to serve mid-afternoon, but I kept it in there until 6pm with no problem.
- When ready to serve, remove the meat and shred into small pieces or chunks with a fork. Spoon some of the sauce from the pot over the top. Serve with black beans and rice or tortillas. If you want to serve in tacos, have some shredded cabbage, fresh cilantro, and sliced green onions for garnish.
- Because I don't always have time to cook every component of every meal from scratch, I sometimes I have my own version of "semi-homemade." With this meal I wanted to serve black beans but didn't have time to make them from dried beans. Below is my quick recipe for black beans which turned out to be one of the hits of the dinner party (besides the pork, of course).
Bonus Recipe: Easy Black Beans
- 1 large can (29 oz) cooked black beans, not drained
- 1 medium can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with green chilies (jalapenos)
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- In a 2 quart pot, heat the teaspoon of olive oil. Add the diced onion and sauté until soft. Add the oregano and cumin and stir, and then add the can of diced tomatoes with green chilies. Add the beans (undrained) and bring to a simmer. Cook on low for about 20 minutes and that's it!
The picures are gorgous but don’t do justice to what it actually tasted like… ’twas delicious.
Mmmm. I love Cuban pork. I eat it with yellow rice and black beans with some platanos 🙂
I used your black bean recipe for dinner (with wild rice), and it was a hit with my family. The jalapenos and cumin give it a nice kick of flavor. I’ll be making the slow cooked Cuban pork this weekend! BTW – I love the picture of your marinade ingredients displayed on the cutting board.
Thanks Myra! I agree, I think it’s the jalepenos in the beans which everyone liked. Not too spicy, but just a little kick.
I made this with pork shoulder (which was on sale) rather than ham. Very yummy, although I expected it to be spicier because of the chiles – they must be very mild. Now I’m curious to try it with ham! I’ll be preparing the bean dish tomorrow – cooked the beans today, and I’ll be adding diced tomatoes and jalapenos along with the spices. My husband will love it. Thanks for another great recipe!
Thanks Suzanne! I’m glad you enjoyed it. You brought up a very good point, yes the chilies are very mild. You could certainly use spicier ones if you wanted to.
Thanks for this post about slow cooked Cuban pork. It looks quite tasty.
This looks gorgeous and I am so with you on the Christmas ham thing! I just wrote a hog post this morning! Over the next few weeks at my culinary program, we are going to be learning a lot of ways to deal with hams. The boston butt, we used to make sausage, yesterday, and we are curing the loins.
Pulled pork and black beans are some of my absolute favorite foods. I love how you offered several ways to serve this dish – those tacos look perfect! Throw some homemade guacamole on there with onions – yum!! A perfect meal if you ask me. Thank you for sharing – will try these ASAP.
Vegetarians Eat, too
I love your picture of your Cuban Pork Marinade Ingredents (ironically, I’m a vegetarian). All the components look amazing. I hope you won’t mind if I use it as my picture on my facebook page. I also included a link to your blog.
No, I don’t mind. I love that picture too. Hope you found some other recipes you like on the blog; I have quite a few vegetarian and vegan recipes here.
Vegetarians Eat, too
I actually found your blog looking for marinara sauce! I never “use” recipes but rather gain inspiration from them. I’ll let you know how it goes! 🙂
It looks like you found a good use of the pig. The slow cooked Cuban pork sounds wonderful. Thanks for the post.
so glad to find this recipe. Hubby is a hunter and I have a ham in the freezer from a hog he killed this winter. I had no idea what to do with it lol.
Been looking for more taco recipes. I love Cuban food. Looks wonderful.