January 30, 2013

Roasted pork leg, a Honduran favorite

Record breaking sales of pork, apples, and grapes

To show you how popular Christmas pork is in La Ceiba, this article in the local Ceibeño section of La Prensa reported that an estimated 72,000 pounds of pork were consumed by Ceibeños during Christmas week and that another 30,000 pounds were expected to be sold during New Year's week.

The other article reported that grapes and apples, other popular holiday food items, experienced a 30% increase in sales this year and a 15% increase in price compared to last year. I always thought the grape and apple tradition was odd given the wonderful tropical fruit available here, but maybe because they are both imported, that is why they are considered a special treat for the holidays. The article notes that grapes and apples are more in demand for Christmas, while tamales and torrejas (a donut-like dessert soaked in a sugar syrup) are more in demand for New Year.

The article notes that chicken is the more common fare for Ceibeños, though pork and beef are eaten year round, particularly in the form of pork chops (chuletas).

Below is a translation of my Honduran sister-in-law's recipe for roasted pork leg that she was kind enough to share with me the first time that I made one. I'm going to be so bold as to call it 'Honduran style' because it is, uh, from a Honduran living in Honduras, but I don't claim that there is only one Honduran style – anymore than there is one 'American style' chicken soup recipe. ;-) So if this isn't the way that your Honduran mother made it, please leave a comment to share other Honduran versions. I'd love to read about variations.

I have to say that I was surprised at the quantities of strong and competing flavors. Most Honduran food is generally not spicy at all though it is usually very salty, which is often achieved through excessive use of chicken bouillon cubes to add flavor. My theory on this is that most of the grocery shopping in other than in the big cities is done at the local pulperia (corner store) where the selection of spices and condiments are very limited. Spices in particular are generally limited to cumin and a cumin-black pepper mixture. For that matter, I know several women in La Ceiba who have never shopped at the big grocery stores, choosing instead to buy their food at the local pulperia or 'mini-super' in their area.

Now I love cumin! I use it a lot, but I just don't think that everything I eat has to taste like cumin. And don't get me started on 'especias'. 'Especias' means 'spices', but what kind of spices? I haven't found a single person who can answer that question and gave up asking several years ago. "What seasoning did you use in that dish?" "Especias." "What kind of especias?" Shrug. I've even looked in the stores for bottles or packets that only said 'especias' hoping it would give me a clue but I never found it. My guess is that it is the common mixture of cumin and black pepper, but maybe it also includes things like oregano and thyme. I'd love to know.

salsa negra, salsa inglesa, both worcestershire
Both Worcestershire sauce
I made some revisions the first time I used Berta's recipe which are indicated in brackets. The notes in parentheses are hers. It was good the first time, but I thought that the flavor of Worcestershire was still too strong so I reduced it again the second time. That may be because I used Lea and Perrins and she probably used a different brand which may not have been as strong. Here in Honduras salsa negra (black sauce), salsa inglesa (English sauce) and salsa perrins all refer to a Worcestershire type sauce, but be careful about that as in some countries 'salsa negra' can refer to soy sauce or a spicy Mexican sauce. Don Julio brand refers to their salsa inglesa as 'premium' though both indicate "Worcestershire" on the label.

Roasted Pork Leg, Honduran style

15 to 20 pound pork leg
2 stalks celery [4]
2 green chiles [3]
2 onions
3 heads of garlic [2]
1 liter of vinegar [2/3]
3/4 liter of salsa negra (Worcestershire sauce) [I used much less]
1/2 bottle of especias [spices? probably cumin and pepper, I used less]
1 box (18) of chicken bouillon cubes [I used none]
4 packets of consume de pollo [quantity? I used about 4 Tbsp.]
1/2 liter of barbecue sauce [I didn't use any]

Note: Comments in [brackets] are the quantities that I used.

Wash the pork leg with lemon and cut off the skin.

In a blender, blend all of the remaining ingredients except the barbecue sauce. Cut slits all over both sides of the leg with the tip of a knife. Pour the marinade mixture all over the leg. (You can add the [crushed] bouillon cubes directly to the meat or add them to the condiment mixture.) Leave the leg to rest approximately 2 hours.

In a 355ºF oven, cook the leg. (You can also brown the exterior of the leg first in a large pan on the stove and then finish it in the oven.)

As it cooks, add the barbecue sauce to prevent the meat from drying and to help the meat become golden.


My notes: This is the most detailed Honduran recipe I've ever seen, not that I've seen that many written down. Most call for a bottle or a packet or a box and don't say the quantities at all. For guidance on the cooking time, see my previous recipe.

By reducing the quantities, you could easily use this same marinade on a smaller pork roast if you aren't up to doing a whole pork leg. In fact, the second time we made it, when we could only find a boneless leg, we cut it in half and gave half to Arexy. I think it would be good on any type of pork roast.

Even with my revised levels, this made a huge quantity of marinade. By basting regularly, there was no problem with the meat drying out so I didn't see any reason to muddy the flavors with barbecue sauce. Later on, we did chop up some leftover meat and mixed it with barbecue sauce for BBQ sandwiches.

The consume powder added sufficient salt to the meat for our tastes. Personally, I cannot imagine adding 18 bouillon cubes (which are mostly salt) to any recipe! I have two recipes from my sister-in-law and both call for an entire box of 'cubitos'.

The second time, I made a boneless pork leg because that was all that was available at that time that year. I used roughly the same proportion of ingredients, except I reduced the Worcestershire sauce even further to 2 tablespoons. For a different flavor, I changed the spices that time to a mixture of oregano, thyme, and bouquet garni. The biggest change was that I roughly chopped the vegetables and sauteed them in a little olive oil until slightly soft prior to blending. That made a huge difference in the flavor so I really recommend doing that.

I was sure that I had photos from when I made these recipes but I searched and searched and couldn't find any.

Of all three times that I've made roasted pork leg, all three were good, but I have to say that the third time (the recipe in the last article) was probably the best and I think that El Jefe preferred it the most, too.

Whichever recipe you try, I hope you enjoy it!

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