Before every last strand of tinsel is tossed in the trash and every leftover cookie stacked in the freezer, and the record of Dylan Thomas reading A Child's Christmas in Wales back in its sleeve, I'd like to take one more trip back to Christmas past/present.
While we were busy braising red cabbage and throwing out failed buches, another Christmas miracle was taking place a few hundred miles south of us in sunny Tampa, Florida. For the past few years, for a number of reasons, the Boyfriends family has taken to ordering their Christmas dinner from a great little Cuban restaurant near his sister's house. The menu usually consists of Pernil (roasted pork shoulder), chicken, plantains, congri (a variation on black beans and rice), and yucca. And while the food is very authentic and delicious, the Boyfriend had begun to miss the smells and tastes of home-cooked dinner. So, in a fit of adventuresome spirit, he announced to the family that he would be making the pork and chicken this year. They were supportive, if a bit skeptical. "Sure, I've made it before," he lied. He was excited, and nervous, and began doing research, calling his aunt in Miami to get her recipe (which, like many great home cooks was mostly--add a little bit of this, then a little more of that, until it looks about right). He planned out the local butcher where he'd purchase the cut of meat, and we even briefly toyed with doing a test run in our kitchen before he headed out of town.
A couple of days before showtime, and after just a tad of expectant father-esque fretting, the Boyfriend visited the butcher to buy his 10-12 lb pork shoulder. "We've got a 25 pounder, and that's all we've got left," he was told. The gruff butcher wrapped it up and sent him off without another word on the subject. When he unwrapped the meat it turned out to have a thick layer of fat and all of the pig skin on the shoulder, the traditional Puerto Rican preparation which allows for enough skin to make chicharrones (pork rinds). NOT how his aunt had described it. So, with a $7 supermarket knife he set about to cut the skin off until it resembled the meat he remembered. Once it looked about right, praying he didn't get rid of too much fat, he set about to make the mojo of sour orange juice, garlic, oregano, and other secret spices, to marinate the meat. Around this point I got my 12th or so call of the day to update me on the status of the pig. I bit my tongue silently when he told me of the incisions he'd made in the meat in order to stuff in some of his aunt's secret ingredients. "One of the cuts I made was a little big." "How big?" I asked, trying to sound calm. "About 5 inches long across the top..." "Uh...okay...so maybe you'll just cover that or something so you don't lose too much moisture." "I could tie it up with butcher twine. Or staple it..." He honestly said this, folks. I'm going to say he was joking. A few more frantic phone calls, and the subject was put to rest. The meat was marinating, the carols were being sung (by someone, somewhere, I assume), and there was nothing left to do but wait for the big day.
On Christmas morning, the Boyfriend woke up at 5am to take the roast out of the fridge and bring it to room temp before putting it in the oven. So hardcore. By the time our house woke up, a few hours later, his was already full of the smell of garlic and bacon fat and things were looking good. Around 3pm, I received a slightly blurry picture message on my phone:
A gloriously browned roast, practically swelling with pride as it rested in the pan. I passed it around to my family, proud as the roast of my new favorite chef. A text appeared: "Pork is damned tasty. I'm already slated to do next year's." My eyes welled up. "You realize this is all because of A Mouse Bouche," my oh so modest sister said, "We inspired this!". When I got the busy chef on the phone he was bursting with excitement. "It was incredible! When I served it, I had to go take a moment to collect myself. The meat FELL off the bone, babe. FELL OFF THE BONE." The Boyfriend's sister said she would try making the black beans next year, and his Sister-in-Law ventured that she could probably manage the yucca. Home cooking had returned to Christmas.
The Boyfriend already can't wait to make it again, with some minor adjustments (maybe no huge gash across the top of the meat?) and I will happily turn the kitchen over to him, sit back, watch and learn. I mentioned your comment to him, Boo, and he surprised me by agreeing with you. I guess A Mouse Bouche can take some tiny bit of responsibility for the birth of a new love affair with cooking. I'm so proud, you have no idea.
Below, some pics from the lunch we had the Sunday after Christmas, using leftovers. I played sous-chef, making an slapdash mojo-esque sauce (cilantro, red onion, garlic, oil, vinegar, lime juice, and salt) for the pork and the Boyfriend's perfectly golden-fried yucca.
It's an amazing feeling to create something with your own two hands that can feed and warm the people you love. But what's almost as satisfying is watching someone discover this for the first time.
And it sure was damned tasty.