Chuletas de Puerco Criollas

Cuban-Style Pork Chops

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The first pigs arrived in Cuba when Columbus landed on the island in 1492, and pork has been a favorite meat since those early days. Cuban Americans will tell you that the pork in Cuba tastes different from pork in the United States. That might sound like food nostalgia, but after eating the moist and flavorful pork in Cuba, I have to agree. According to my friend Juanita Plana, who grew up in Cuba, one of the secrets of Cuban pork is that the pigs are fed on palmiche, the fruit of a palm tree.

This traditional pork chop recipe is one of my favorites, because it is good, and quick, and easy to prepare. It was a special on the menu the last time Marty and I ate at El Bouganvil, a popular paladar (private restaurant) in Havana, and preparing it makes me remember that beautiful balmy evening and the restaurant’s lovely garden. There is a little nostalgia attached to most good food memories!

Serve the chops with Torrejas de Machuquillo (Green Plantain Pancakes) or Plátanos Maduros Fritos (Fried Ripe Plantains) and Moros y Cristianos (Black Beans and Rice).

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Ingredients

  • 8 to 12 thin center-cut pork chops, ½ to ¾ inch thick
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ cup fresh bitter orange juice, or ¼ cup regular orange juice and ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup dry sherry or vino seco (Cuban dry cooking wine)
  • ¼ cup Aceite de Achiote (Achiote-Flavored Olive Oil), or ¼ cup olive oil and 1 teaspoon bijol (annatto seed seasoning)
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced into rings

Method

Place the pork chops in a nonreactive baking dish. Crush the garlic in a garlic press, then mix it with the oregano and cumin to form a paste. Rub the paste over the chops. Add the bitter orange juice and sherry. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for 1 to 4 hours. Remove the chops from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve the marinade.

Place the Aceite de Achiote in a large skillet over medium-high. When it is sizzling hot, add the chops in small batches and sear until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. As they are browned, remove the chops to a dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, if using, and set aside.

Add the onion to the skillet and sauté over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved marinade and return the chops to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, turning the chops once or twice, until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the chops to a warm platter and spoon the onions and pan juices over them. Serve.