"The government exports so many of the ingredients that matter to Cubans, leaving very little in the hands of the people here in this country", said an elderly gentleman who ran an antique shop in Havana, as his albino Tibetan terrier ran in circles around his legs. He didn't want us to use his name, but he told us that as long as we kept it confidential, he wasn't afraid to tell us that he thinks the government is worthless. The antiques in his shop, relics of the past, everything from tattered Cuban flags to antique watches and weathered baseball gloves were piled to the ceiling in topsy-turvy towers. He ran his fingers through the black ringlets of his granddaughter, Rosario. She was sitting on a rocking chair in front of the establishments only fan, the fairy princess of vintage-ville. One of the only things they let us keep is pork, and what a relief that is. I can't imagine where we would be without pork.We think many Cubans would agree. Pork is a celebrated ingredient in the Cuban kitchen, and this recipe glorifies and intensifies pork's flavor. These crispy, lusty porcine hunks are made all the more addictive when dipped into Mango Salsa enlivened with a hearty squeeze of lime. Keep in mind that this recipe calls for 2 pounds of trimmed pork shoulder, which means that, depending on the amount of fat and gristly bits on the shoulder, there could be a significant loss of volume once trimmed.
If you have a steamer and parchment paper and are comfortable working with yeast, please do dive into this recipe with abandon. It's a tempting marriage of a Chinese tradition and Cuban flavors that will prove virtually irresistible for anyone who catches a whiff of the cumin- and cinnamon-scented air it conjures. Dried currants add a chewy sweetness to the robust blend of beef and spices, and cilantro and vinegar give it the kick in the pants that any Cuban grandmother would appreciate.
Lobster, especially the spiny lobster, is a black market favorite in Cuba, where it is consumed with a gusto reserved for life's rare luxuries. This lobster roll is a way to celebrate this beloved crustacean in a way that doesn't adulterate it too much, infusing its flesh with the flavor of the ocean. Add a little more mayonnaise if you prefer it creamy, and be sure to squeeze in a little fresh lime juice to add a summertime zing.
Chicken stock is a workhorse in the Cuban culinary repertoire. During our home cooking sessions it seemed to be on hand in every kitchen, especially with the one-pot meals that are so prevalent in Cuba. This recipe calls for aromatics such as bay leaves, garlic, tomatoes, and bell peppers, fundamental ingredients in the Cuban pantry. Be sure to roast the chicken bones to a deep golden brown before adding them to the stock to impart a refined flavor that wouldn't otherwise be achieved. Skim the surface of the pot frequently during the simmering process to remove unwanted residue and to reduce cloudiness once the stock is done.