January 23, 2011
Roast Pork…a beautiful thing on a cold wnter’s night. And it is COLD tonight (near 0F)!
Bobby went up against Miami Beach’s Roberto Guerra, the King of the Caja China. King of what?? A cooking system brought to Cuba by the Chinese – the “China Box” is a series of insulated cooking boxes used to cook traditionally long cooking items quickly. Roberto typically does his recipe with a full pig, but for the Food Network show he thought he was taping, he chose a pork shoulder for his recipe. He begins with a sour orange, bay leaf and garlic marinade. He then stuffs the pork with prunes, ham, bacon and guava shells. He glazes his pork with a brown sugar and Malta mix, creating a sticky sweet glaze that is gorgeous on the meat.
Bobby marinated his pork shoulder in garlic, oil, and fresh oregano. As he cooks his meat – first at 425F for 30 mins, then lowering the temp to 350F, he bastes his pork with a mixture of orange juice, lime juice, zests of both fruits, oregano and fresh garlic. He finishes his pork with a mojo dipping sauce, made with serrano, garlic, orange, lime and cilantro.
For our version at home, Roberto’s sour orange juice was replaced with a mix of orange and lime juice. The guava shells for Roberto’s recipe were not available, so guava jelly stood in. Fresh oregano was not available for Bobby’s recipe, but a good quality dried Turkish oregano stood in. Both marinades were sparse – Bobby’s more of a rub, Roberto’s barely there. In the end the flavor stood up, especially on Bobby’s pork.
Both cooked beautifully, Roberto’s glazing nicely, but needed to be watched so that the malta and brown sugar did not burn on the bottom of the pan. Bobby’s orange glaze was a little juicy in the pan, but beautifully browned while cooking. Once cooked and the meat had a chance to rest, it was time to taste.
First Roberto’s – beautiful color, sticky glazed outside, and a very strong flavor of ham/bacon. The glaze was not overpoweringly sweet, nor did the guava or prunes add a high level of sweetness. The bitter orange added a nice balance to the sweet side for a flavorful, well cooked piece of pork. Smoky, rich, a perfect winter dish. On the negative – I could not really taste the pork itself, as the other flavors were more dominant.
Bobby’s pork was tender, with a nice flavor from the oregano rub. The mojo sauce was clean, fresh tasting and very garlicky, but delicious! To me this was more the Miami flavor I would think of and made me think of warmer weather. A mojito, some rice and frijoles – a perfect summer meal. Roberto’s was more winter flavor to me, with a nice barley or potato side dish, and a dark and stormy to drink. Or maybe a Guinness…not very South Beach….
The official judges were Maria Vasquez, who runs http://www.cubanfoodmarket.com and Chef Pepin, who is an established restauranteur and considers himself an expert on pork. The judges felt both dishes were fantastic, but in the end chose Roberto’s sweeter version as the winner. We agree – both were delicious, but this household ended the evening in split in judgment.
To learn more about the caja China go to http://www.lacajachina.com/.