January 29, 2013

La Gringa's Roast Pork Leg Recipe

roasted pork leg recipe
Roasted Pork Leg – minus a few test bites by Chef El Jefe

I promised a roasted pork leg recipe and I'm not only providing you with the recipe I used this year, but also my sister-in-law's authentic Honduran recipe, as a well as a modified version of her recipe. Those latter two recipes will be in the next article. (I promise! Unfortunately, my sister-in-law's recipe was misplaced for a time, hence the delay in posting.)

Roasted pork leg leftovers
For my recipe version below, I winged it by picking and choosing what sounded good from three recipes I found online, since none of my cookbooks have a recipe for whole fresh pork leg. I was looking for a sort of Caribbean flavor and I think it was achieved with lots of garlic and fresh ginger, as well as the bitter orange juice. I can tell you that it was served to Hondurans and they all loved it. The proof is shown by how much they ate!

Because I was winging it, I ended up with about 1 1/2 cups of unused marinade. El Jefe loved the flavor so much that a week later he went out and bought a smaller pork roast to cook on the grill with the leftover marinade. The proportions of this recipe have been reduced so that you shouldn't have a lot of excess marinade. Before you start marinating the meat, in a separate bowl, set aside about 1/3-1/2 cup for basting in the first couple of hours. After that, there should be enough pan juices to use for basting during the rest of the cooking time.

Speaking of cooking time, please use a thermometer and your own judgement. The USDA has lowered the recommended 'safe' cooking temperature for pork from 160ºF down to 145ºF with a 3-minute resting time, but remember that a pork leg is a huge hunk of meat with a large bone running through it so the temperature is going to vary a lot in different areas of the meat. While trichinosis has been mostly eliminated in the US, I have no idea the status in Honduras so I'd rather play it safe like Hondurans do. Knowing that most of my guests would have been appalled at pink meat, I preferred to ensure that the leg was fully cooked and tender.

La Gringa's Roasted Pork Leg

10-15 pound fresh bone-in pork leg (fresh ham), skin removed
2 heads of garlic
1/3 cup fresh ginger
1 tbsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1 tbsp. thyme leaves (tomillo)
1 tbsp. comino seeds or ground cumin
2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 cups bitter orange juice*
1/2 cup olive oil

The marinade:

*Note: I used Badia brand "Naranja Agría (Sour Orange)".

Peel the garlic. Cut 6 medium cloves into half and set those pieces aside. Peel the fresh ginger, cut about 12 good sized slices about 1/8 inch thick (3 mm). Set those slices aside. Roughly chop the rest of the ginger and garlic and put into food processor or blender.

Add the cumin seeds to the garlic and ginger, and pulse the machine until very finely minced. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.

The pork leg:

Buy the pork leg 2-3 days ahead of time to ensure that it is fully thawed if it was frozen. If you use a boneless pork leg, the cooking time will be much less, maybe 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

The day before, wash the pork leg in cold water and remove the skin if it has it (it usually doesn't in La Ceiba because the skin is used to make the popular chicharón - fried pork skin). Be sure to leave a good layer of fat over the upper side the leg, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6-12 mm). You'll want to cook it with the fat side up. Pat the leg dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife, score the fat in a diagonal pattern (like a ham).

Poke the tip of a sharp knife 1/2 inch into the meat in one of the score lines and insert a garlic clove half or a ginger slice into the slit in the meat. My slits were self-sealing so the only way I could do this was to leave the knife tip in the slit and push the garlic or ginger piece down alongside the knife blade and hold it down while I slowly removed the knife. Alternating the garlic and ginger, insert the 24 pieces evenly all over the top and sides of the leg.

pork leg marinating
Rub the entire leg with a generous amount of marinade, using about 1/2 to 2/3 of it. Place the leg into a large, heavy plastic bag, seal it with a twist tie, and then place that bag into another bag which is then sealed. You'll probably need help with this as it is heavy, slippery, and messy. The double bag is to prevent the entire contents of your fridge from smelling like garlic while it is marinating. Place the bag in your roasting pan and into the fridge overnight, turning it every hour or so during your waking hours to redistribute the marinade. If you are using a disposable aluminum pan, be sure to use a baking sheet underneath it to support the pan. The leg can be marinated for up to two days.

The Roasting:

About an hour before cooking, remove the meat from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.

pork leg ready to go into oven
Preheat oven to 475ºF. Get help to remove the meat from the plastic bags. Place the meat into the roasting pan and pour any juices in the bag over the meat. Spoon some more marinade over the meat if you think it needs it. Roast uncovered at 475ºF for about 45 minutes. If the meat appears to be becoming too brown, lower the temperature to about 450ºF.

Turn the oven down to 350ºF and roast for another 3 to 4 hours. Baste with more marinade and/or the accumulated juices about every 30 minutes to an hour. If the bottom of the pan becomes dry and it looks like the juices will burn, add enough additional bitter orange juice or water to the pan to prevent burning. Continue roasting and basting until the thickest part of the meat is around 150ºF (for slicing) or 180ºF for pulling/shredding. (See notes about temperatures above and below.) The internal temperature should rise another 15 to 20 degrees during the rest. Let the meat rest covered with foil for 30 minutes to an hour.

Note regarding the meat temperature: The recipes I found suggested temperatures varying from 145ºF (Martha Stewart) to 195ºF! Apparently I wasn't doing it right or my thermometer was way off because the meat reached 185ºF long before the 4 hours was up. However, when I removed the thermometer from the meat, the juices were still bloody. (Later I found out that my thermometer was about 10 degrees high.) The meat will continue to cook and the temperature will continue to rise while the meat is resting, but Hondurans do not generally like pink or red meat so I cooked it for the full time but reduced the temperature to 325ºF during the third hour. The meat was very juicy and tender and was very easy to slice without falling apart.

I should mention that El Jefe finished this (the last couple of hours) on the grill with indirect heat (the grill hot on one side and off on the side underneath the roasting pan). He tried to maintain a temperature of about 350ºF, but that is hard to do when you are opening the grill to baste every 30 minutes. The second, smaller pork roast I mentioned above he did entirely on the grill with good results.

In the La Ceiba area, the meat is usually served as sandwiches with a dressing of a mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise. One year, we had a culturally confused meal: Roasted pork, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce and I used the leftover meat for tamales. Another time, I chopped leftover meat and mixed it with barbecue sauce for BBQ sandwiches. El Jefe never seems to get tired of eating pork sandwiches. I have frozen large chunks of the leftover meat for other uses and used it with good results.

If you ever have a big crowd to feed, give roasted fresh pork leg a try! It takes a long time to roast but there is very little hands-on time involved.

See also Roasted pork leg, a Honduran favorite for an authentic Honduran recipe.
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