If you’re Cuban, you eat pork around the holidays…that’s just how life is for you. No matter who’s house we were celebrating Christmas at, there was always pork involved. Whenever my parents hosted the Christmas Even dinner, they always served pork. Pork shoulder, pork leg, pork butt and one time they made a whole pig, head and all, fire roasted, in a box in the back yard! “La Caja China.” If you don’t know what that is, I found a cute article that describes a Cuban Christmas Eve and the “Caja China.” Check it out below. It’s basically a box where you cook the pig. If I remember correctly, the one my parents used was made of wood…but I’m not quite certain. The whole process seamed so complicated to me, that honestly, I did not pay attention to what was going on in the yard that night. The poor pig. There it was dead, in my back yard, waiting to be doused in what seamed like a million gallons of sour orange and 100 pounds of garlic! It was so over the top!
Making an entire pig is way out there for me; I like things to be good, but simple, this is why I choose pork tenderloin for my Christmas Eve festivities. No disrespect intended for those fun memories of Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house or all the effort my parents put into preparing the traditional meal at our own home. This recipe is one I found online after searching through cookbooks, asking friends, and surfing the internet. It’s simple, but I must say, the result was the best tasting Cuban style pork tenderloin I’ve ever made. It’s partly from natashalh.com, from 2015. I used some of her ideas and ingredients and combined them with my all time favorite parts of how my parents did it and, wow!!! Amazing flavor!
The recipe suggests marinating the pork overnight. I would do this only for a larger cut of pork, the tenderloins are usually thin, so it really picks up the flavor quickly. You don’t want the citrus to overpower all the other flavors.
I calculate one tenderloin will serve about 2-3 people. This depends on the size of the tenderloin, or portion size, or who you’re inviting (some people eat more than others). At my house we tend to like smaller portions, but this is a good recipe and everyone had seconds when I served this. Plan accordingly so you’ll have enough to go around. If you do happen to have left overs, you’ll have really good sandwiches for lunch the next day!
Every few years, I change up the menu in order to try new things, but when I make the Cuban style Christmas Eve, everyone is happy! Make sure to check out my “notes” at the end of the recipe for serving suggestions.
- 2 nice sized pork tenderloins, fat trimmed and silver skin removed
- 1 cup fresh squeeze orange juice (about two oranges)
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about three to four)
- zest of two lemons
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about two to three)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 8 cloves of garlic (if they’re small, use more)
- 1 teaspoon of salt*
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons of dried oregano
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- fresh ground black pepper
- 1-2 onions, thinly sliced in rounds
- About 1- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
* If you’re making more than two, obviously adjust the amount of ingredients, so you’ll have enough marinade and rub for all the meat. As far as adding salt goes…I tend to under salt my food. But if you like salt, by all means add more; however, wait until it is cooked, taste and then add. My dad always used to say, “Pork loves salt.”
Instructions for the marinade:
Note: you will be preparing a marinade and a rub; notice some of the ingredients will be halved.
- Zest the lemon and add it to a bowl or a 3-4 cup measuring cup, then add the juices of the orange, lime and lemon. Add 1/4 cup olive oil.
- Peel and smash 4 cloves of garlic and add it to the citrus blend. Add in 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp or so of dried red pepper flakes. Stir to combine.
- Prepare the tenderloins by trimming off the fat and removing the silvery skin
- Pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Gently give them a few small stabs on each side with the tip of a sharp knife. Try not to cut through to the other side. 5 or so stabs per side should be fine. My mom always said this helps the flavors get into the meat.
- Place them in a zippered baggie large enough (gallon sized is good) to hold the meat and the marinade. If you’re making more than two tenderloins, only place two per bag and divide the marinade equally among them.
- Pour the marinade into the baggie and gently squeeze out the air as you zip it closed.
- Place it in the fridge for about 4-5 hours; turn it every hour or so…put a timer on your smart phone ; ) so you don’t forget. Also, if you’re having a lunch or early supper , plan on starting early so your meat has time to soak up all those yummy flavors!
Time to add the rub and brown the meat:
- After about 3-4 hours, take the tenderloins from the fridge, leaving them still in the bag with the marinade, and place it on a dish or the counter for about 1 hour or less. Do not allow it to sit for more than one hour at room temperature…set your timer again! I’ve learned meat cooks better when it’s room temperature. Even slightly room temperature is fine, but not super cold from the refrigerator.
- While you’re waiting for the meat to reach room temperature, it’s a good time to prepare the rub. Smash 4 cloves of garlic and add it to a small bowl…I smash garlic with a wooden mortar and pestle. You can use whatever method you like best to smash it up. The more smashed it is the better, though.
- Add in the remaining salt, cumin, oregano, dried red pepper flakes and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Blend the mixture with a spoon.
- Prepare a work area, preferably a plastic cutting board, with layers of clean paper towel. Carefully remove the pork tenderloins from the marinade and place them on the paper towel, pat them dry. This is important. Less moisture means you won’t have it splatter as much and it will brown better. Reserve about 2 tbsp of the marinade. Discard the rest of the marinade…it’s done it job!
- Using your hands, rub the garlic mixture all over the meat….make sure not to miss any spots!
- The original recipe calls for browning the tenderloin in butter. You may do this if you wish. The flavor will be good and it will get a nice color. I use olive oil to brown my meats because I think it’s a healthier alternative. Set your burner to medium/high and heat a pan with about 2 tbsp olive oil (or butter; about 2 pads) in a pan large enough to hold both tenderloins. If you’re preparing more than two, work in batches, adding extra olive oil or butter as need. Brown the meat for 4 minutes on each side.
- Once you’ve removed the tenderloins from the pan and they are roasting, re-heat the pan you browned them in; if needed and add 1 tbsp extra olive oil. Add the sliced onions and brown them. Once the onions have softened and the edges are browned and a little crisp, add 2 tbsp of the reserved marinade. Saute for another 5 minutes, swirling them in the oil and liquid, scraping little bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the liquid to evaporate. Once done, Take pan off the heat and set it aside until your pork is roasted. You will be placing these onions over the top of the sliced meat.
Time to roast:
Heat oven to 400º and prepare a roasting pan. I like to brush my roasting pan with a little olive oil.
- Once browned on all sides, remove the tenderloins from the pan and place them on the roasting pan. Roast for 20-25 minutes, depending on how well done you like your meat; keep in mind the more you cook it, the dryer it will be. Check the internal temperature of the meat at the thickest part. It should register at 145º, but not more than 150º. It will continue to cook when you remove it from the oven, so don’t over do it. You can always re-check with the meat thermometer before cutting it. I don’t mind my pork slightly pink in the middle.
- Remove it from the oven and loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top. Let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting.
- To plate the pork, slice the tenderloins in rounds or diagonal, about 1 1/2″ thick. Place the slices on a serving platter slightly layered one over the other, so the edges touch. Top with the sauteed onions, and sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.
Note: We have this with white rice, homemade black beans, boiled yuca (cassava) with a garlic and lemon mojo. A nice chopped lettuce salad with sliced red onions, sliced tomatoes, avocados, and topped apple cider vinaigrette is idea! I’ll be posting recipe for black beans soon! Mashed potatoes, cheesy grits, or any roasted vegetable and salad goes great also! Sorry, I don’t have a picture for this pork recipe, as soon as I do, I will add it!
Time: Prepping, about 1 hour; marinating, about 4-5 hours; cooking and serving; about 30 minutes. Makes 4-5 servings.