Most of us have been grilling for several months now, and although we've loved our burgers, steaks and ribs, we might be looking for something new, something a little exotic to toss on the grill. So Chef Jerry Pellegrino and I look to Latin American and the Caribbean for a lot of inspiration, because the folks down there really know how to grill.
Latin America is where pork is king. And nothing is quite as festive as a great an entire suckling pig cooked in the famous "caja china", or "china box" which is actually a big old tin lined chest formerly used for shipping tea from China. The pig goes on a rack in the bottom, and the coals go on a rack on top. And you close the thing up and let it go long and slow. Technically this is baking, but since you do it outdoors and you use charcoal, we qualify it as grilling.
If you can't get a china box and a suckling pig, an 8 pound boneless pork shoulder will do nicely in the backyard grill. No matter what, the secret to a great roast pork is the mojo criollo. And here's how to make it.
From Lourdes Castro "Latin Grilling"
4 cups seville orange juice or 2 1/2 cups lime juice mixed with 1 1/2 cups orange juice
1 tbs ground cumin
2 tbs dried oregano
12 cloves of peeled garlic, coarsely chopped
3 tbs salt
1 tbs black pepper
2 large onions, cut into rings
Preparation: Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and let it sit for 15 minutes.
The proper name for a Cuban grilled pork dish is lecho asado. The big trick to marinating the pork is to use a flavor injector, a gadget that looks like the kind of hypodermic needle a vet would use on a horse. You want to take half your marinade and strain it into a bowl. Then just shoot up the pork shoulder here, there and everywhere until you have used up the juice. Soak the pork in the rest of the marinade for at least overnight, turning the shoulder occasionally.
Once the pork is ready for the grill you can boil the marinade, puree it and use it as a basting liquid during grilling.
Flank steak and skirt steak are much more popular in Latin America than it is in the US. The simplest version is the wonderful churrasco. You start by cutting off any membrane that may be left on the steaks, which are long, narrow and thin.
Then you pound them to tenderize them, and get them ready for a mojo marinade.
After marinating you cover the steak with copious amounts of salt and pepper, pepper, pepper. Get your grill really hot, and flash cook the steaks, perhaps about 45 seconds on a side. If you listened to our show last week, you heard us talk about the popular green sauce chimichuri. Go the the Radio Kitchen website at WYPR.org and look up the simple recipe.
Another idea is something called matambre where you use the flank steak to roll up a stuffing. You start by butterflying the flank steak, and laying it open. Hit it with some lime juice, salt and pepper and some minced garlic. Then you lay in spinach leaves, sliced carrots, bell peppers, olives and hard-boiled eggs. Roll it up, secure it with kitchen twine, and wrap it up in tinfoil. Give it a 90 minute grill over medium heat. It should be tender and cooked through, and ready to eat.
Let's talk chicken. Pollo frito a la Criolla is a Cuban specialty. You'll use that mojo criolla again, this time marinating a cut up chicken. Let it soak over night, and then roast in over low to medium heat for about 40 minutes.
Fish tacos are becoming very popular, and our own rockfish is a good candidate along with mahi-mahi and halibut, i.e. a firm white fleshed fish.
You make up an adobo rub with chili powder, lime juice, olive oil, cumin, onion and garlic powder, salt, black pepper and a touch of cayenne. Cut your fish fillets into half pound portions, and rub all over with the adobo. Grill quickly over medium high heat, and serve with the tacos. Crumble the fish, and add whatever veggie salsa or slaw you want and munch away. Olé!