It's hard to argue against lechon asado as the perfect Christmas Eve meal. The slow-roasted cut that's loved year-round from the Caribbean to the Southern Cone is culled from a different part of the pig than holiday ham. And it isn't prepared the same way.
This isn't that massive turkey your mother prepared when you were growing up in Michigan, New Jersey or Connecticut. If you've wanted to try your hand at lechon for Christmas, but haven't been able to muster the courage, don't worry; we've got you covered.
Papo Llega y Pon in Hialeah has been slow roasting pork shoulders since 1978, said owner Julia Alfonso. In the beginning it was run by her Cuban father and Guatemalan mother. Alfonso took over about seven years ago after working for Carnival-owned Costa Cruise Lines.
In the middle of Christmas rush - the days leading up to the holiday are when they get the most orders for full shoulders - we convinced Alfonso (with unparalleled gringo charm) to run through basics for those of us looking to get some roast pig this holiday.
The key is "low temperature for a long time," she said. The restaurant roasts bone-in pork shoulders, also called Boston Butt roasts, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for six hours. When considering how much meat you need estimate about a half a pound of pig per person. For a seven-pound shoulder the bone, Alfonso said, weighs about a pound and the roasting will render about a pound or more of fat out of the roast leaving with you five and half pounds of meat, enough to serve 11 people.
The only thing you'll be missing is the crispy skin from a full shoulder, also called a picnic ham, or a whole hog. Convince that last-minute shopper in your life to get you a Caja China, and don't forget to invite us over when you break it out.
Papo roasts its pork with no seasoning, not even a pinch of salt.
"The pork sweats it out," Alfonso said. "If you put something in, it doesn't get the flavor all the way through."
Instead the restaurant roasts the shoulders with a bit of water in deep pans, with the fat side facing up. Keep a sharp eye to see if the pan dries out and if so add more water.
After spending the better part of a day in the shoulder should be succulent and fork tender. Hit it with some of Papo's special mojo and you're ready to go.
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Mojo Sauce from Papo Llega y Pon
1 gallon grapefruit juice
1 gallon lime juice
2 cups Sazón Completa
1 cup garlic paste
½ cup of salt (to taste)
Mix ingredients together in a large container and stir to combine. If two gallons of mojo is too much simply cut down the amount of citrus, but keep the proportions the same. For example, a half gallon of each juice would need one cup of Sazón Completa, a half cup of garlic and a quarter cup of salt.