Year of the Pig: Celebrate the New Year with a Good-Luck Feast of Roast Pork

 Photograph by Christopher Testani

At New Year's festivities from China to Portugal and Austria, there's one dish served as a harbinger of good luck: roast pork. Why pork? It has to do with the way the animals root, pushing ever forward to a better-fed future. Nowhere is the dish more beloved than in Cuba, where it takes center stage at nearly every possible occasion — "Christmas, New Year's, birthdays, or just because," says Guillermo Pernot, the James Beard Award–winning chef-owner of Philadelphia's Cuba Libre and a pioneer of Nuevo Latino cuisine.


Pernot was born in Argentina, but his wife is Cuban, and it didn't take long for the chef to embrace her native cuisine. He now leads food tours of Cuba, where he has sleuthed out the secret to the greatest Cuban pork dish of all, lechón asado: pork marinated in citrus and spices, then slow-roasted until falling-apart tender. Pernot prefers the shoulder because the cut's abundant fat and connective tissue melt during long roasting, making overcooking nearly impossible. Serve it with a garlicky mojo sauce, a tangy slaw, and a pinot noir or cold beer.

Sour Orange Mojo (Serves 4)

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ onion, minced
  • juice of 1 large orange
  • juice of 8 limes
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in juices, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and a cup of water, and bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, add remaining oil, and let cool. Stir in parsley and serve.

Lechón Asado (Serves 4)

  • 3 lbs boneless pork shoulder, tied
  • 4 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • Juice of 6 fresh limes
  • 2 cups orange juice concentrate
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano

Marinate the Pork

Make 3-inch slits over entire surface of the meat, and rub generously with salt and pepper. Mix remainder of ingredients in a deep, heavy-bottomed roasting pan. Add pork and enough water to bring liquid halfway up the sides of the meat. Marinate for 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Complete the Dish

Preheat oven to 325°. Cover pan and roast the pork, in the marinade, for 4 hours. Uncover and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. (Pork is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 140°.) Remove meat from pan and allow to cool. Cut into large chunks and serve with Sour Orange Mojo (above).

Vigorón Slaw (Serves 4)

Slaw:

  • 2 cups green cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1 red onion, sliced paper thin
  • 1 jalapeño chili, sliced into paper-thin wheels
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • vinaigrette
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 6 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1½ tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt

In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage, onion, jalapeño, and tomatoes. Set aside.

Whisk together lime juice, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, cilantro, brown sugar, and salt. Set aside and allow flavors to meld for at least an hour before tossing with slaw, then serve.