Around here, New Year’s Eve is usually spent lounging in bed, watching The Thin Man, drinking champagne and concocting ridiculous resolutions. (1. Cut back on alcohol in 2009. 2. Oh never mind…)
At midnight, another glass of bubbly—by now Nick and Nora have drunk us under the table—and kisses all around.
Twelve hours later comes the best meal of the year. It’s mostly Cuban, and it’s fabulous.
Here’s the menu:
Garlic Roasted Pork Shoulder in Mojo Citrus Sauce with Cumin and Oregano
Moros y Christianos (a.k.a. Black Beans and White Rice)
Bitter Salad of Radiccio and Endive in Orange Vinaigrette
If the first two dishes sound vaguely familiar, you’re either Cuban—in which case you probably ate lechon asado last week—or, like me, you clipped and saved Steve Raichlen’s 1999 New York Times article, “In Miami, Christmas Eve Means Roast Pig.”
The tantalizing recipes that accompanied the article came from Efrain Veiga and his wife Esther who left Cuba for Miami in 1959. The centerpiece of the Miami feast was lechon asado, a whole 49-pound pig, marinated in the mouth puckering juice of the naranja agria, or sour orange, punched up with garlic, cumin and oregano. Veiga, a former butcher and world class meat cook, covered the pig with banana leaves and slow roasted it in a pit atop glowing coals for much of a long day punctuated by recreational beer quaffing. “By night fall the Miami pig was as shiny and dark as mahogany and the meat tender enough to pull apart with your fingers..,”
I can’t imagine a better way to launch the New Year than with Cuban pork roast accompanied by black beans and white rice. North Carolina is pig central—the second biggest pork producer after Iowa—and lots of our local organic farmers have discovered the profitable joys of raising heritage breed hogs. The succulent pork shoulder I’ll be serving in a few hours came from Elysian Fields Farm, and it boasts an irresistible triumverate of sour, salty, fatty flavors, especially when drizzled with Veiga’s tangy mojo sauce–basically a reprise of the marinade with added cilantro.
I usually follow the Times recipe for Garlic Roasted Pork Shoulder, substituting a mixture of lime and orange juices for the elusive naranja agria, but I cook the meat outside—not, alas, in a pit like Mr. Veiga, but on the grill next to a pile of glowing hickory and oak embers pushed to the side. Once the heat begins to fade, I finish the roast in a 350 degree oven.
I love the contrast of the tender smoky pork with starchy black beans and white rice. All across the South, of course, it’s traditional to serve black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day, along with ham or pork for prosperity. But this is a Cuban feast and the beans must be black. Lately though, I find myself making frijoles negros the way our family cook, Aurora Rodriguez, did when I was little. She always slow-simmered them in a clay pot on the back burner until they were tender, then stirred a tasty sofrito of bacon cooked with onion, garlic, and green pepper into the mix. At the very end she added a dash of vinegar for acidity.
There are probably as many ways to cook black beans as there are cooks to make them. But this is the way I do it: Soak the beans in lots of water overnight. Drain them and put them in a pot with more water, an onion, some garlic and bruised cumin seed. If you like, add a dried chipotle chile for a little heat. Depending on the “age” of the beans—how long they’ve been sitting on the shelf—they might cook as quickly as 45 minutes, or it might take 2 hours or more. The idea is to simmer them gently until they are tender and almost velvety. Never add salt until they are almost done, by the way, or they will toughen. After you stir in the sofrito, simmer the beans a little more. At the last, add a spoonful of white wine vinegar.
Do you need a recipe? Here it is:
Black Beans with Smoky Bacon, Green Pepper and Garlic
Serves 6 as a side dish.
1 pound black beans (about 2-1/2 cups)
1 small onion, quartered
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin seed, bruised in a mortar and pestle
1 bay leaf
1 dried chipotle chile (optional)
4 thick slices smoked bacon, diced
1 cup onion, diced
½ cup green pepper, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
A few sprigs of cilantro
1. Put the black beans in a large bowl and cover with plenty of water. Soak overnight. In the morning drain the beans in a colander.
2. Put the beans in large pot with three inches of water to cover. Add the quartered onion, garlic cloves, cumin seed, bay leaf and dried chipotle, if you’re using it. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and partly cover the pot with a lid. Simmer until the beans are tender. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours or more. Remove the bay leaf and the chipotle.
3. Prepare the sofrito: In a cast iron skillet, sauté the bacon for 3 minutes or until it begins to brown around the edges. Add the diced onion, green pepper and garlic and sauté 4 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.
4. Add the sofrito to the beans and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more. Add salt to taste. Stir in the vinegar.
5. Just before serving reheat and add a few sprigs of cilantro. Serve hot with white rice.