I love what the summer is doing to my cooking at the moment. Something about hot weather just gives me an urge to serve up a feast to a crowd of people, preferably in my garden, with some magnificent form of fish or beast as its centrepiece, adorned by an array of fresh, vibrant salads. Recently there was a fabulous barbecue in which I cooked an entire salmon, rubbed with Cajun blackening spices and grilled on each side until the skin was rich and crispy, while the fish stayed beautifully moist and pink. We ate it with tortillas and freshly made guacamole, and a wonderful variety of salads and salsas (mango, chickpea and spinach salad; fennel, apple and mint salad; cucumber and melon salsa; fresh papaya and avocado salsa; watermelon and feta salad), all washed down with oh-too-moreish mango mojitos.
This is one of my favourite ways of eating. Choose a lovely piece of protein and exoticise it with a delicious marinade or spice rub. Apply heat, preferably in the form of glowing coals, but in an oven if not feasible. Serve alongside a beautiful medley of salads featuring a hefty dose of bright fruit and crunchy veg, and maybe some homemade guacamole, because I have constant gluts of avocados right now and I can’t really think of anything that isn’t improved by guacamole. You don’t really need many carbohydrates if you have a large amount of salad and vegetables, which is perfect for summer eating when it’s hot and sticky and you don’t want to be weighed down (and, for those of you who care about such things, it’s probably more conducive to that elusive ‘bikini body’).
I seem to have been doing a lot of Mexican-style cooking lately, perhaps because it lends itself to this casual summer way of eating – everyone piles meat/fish and salad onto their plates, then scoops it up with soft, pliable tortillas, or rolls it up inside said tortillas (good luck with that – I’ve never succeeded in doing this neatly). There is guacamole on the table, to be scooped up with crunchy tortilla chips or added to the meat/fish medley. There is rum, and lots of things involving lime. It’s all done outside. Perfect summer socialising.
The other day, I had a crowd to feed, and I suddenly and (uncharacteristically) impulsively decided to have a go at pulled pork, because there really isn’t anything like roast pig to get a party started. Especially when this pig is marinated in rum, amongst other things.
You want more detail? OK. The pig is marinated in a delicious mixture of roast cumin, pepper, garlic, salt, dried oregano, rum, orange and lime juice. I also put in a bit of orange peel powder to add a more earthy citrus note. I used pork shoulder, because it’s lovely and fatty and melts down to succulent tenderness in the heat of the oven, which is exactly what you want for pulled pork. The crackling turns burnished, lacquered and crisp, while the flesh becomes moist, juicy, deeply flavoursome. After resting, you can shred it with two forks, to form a mound of utterly delicious, tender piggy morsels.
You’re not done yet, though. You then simmer the roasting juices to make the most wonderful gravy, rich and meaty but gorgeously tangy from the citrus juices and the rum. Pour this over the pork to coat it in this luscious mixture of flavours, then it’s ready to serve – and I defy you not to have at least three ‘cook’s perk’ nibbles of the crackling or of those particularly crispy ‘end bits’.
There’s something immensely satisfying about the ease of cooking a pork shoulder. The oven does all the work for you, so you can get on with your side dishes, and you can watch your fleshy slab of pig transform into the most ridiculously mouthwatering hunk of bronzed sustenance. The end result is spectacular.
I served this with tortillas, a rice and black bean salad, and a salad of ripe avocado, juicy chunks of mango, mange tout and spinach, with a dressing made from blitzed fresh coriander, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was utterly gorgeous, the sweet mango working so well with the rich, tangy meat, with the rice and beans soaking up all the delicious juices. I think it would be good with any kind of green salad, particularly involving avocado and some form of fruit, and any rice-based carbohydrate dish.
Next time you have a crowd to feed and it’s feeling summery out there, please make this. I promise you, everyone will go wild for it.
Pulled pork, Cuban-style (serves 10):
A 2.5kg pork shoulder, skin scored
2 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tbsp black peppercorns
8 garlic cloves
2 tsp sea salt
1.5 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp orange peel powder (optional)
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 2 limes
A good glug of rum
Toast the cumin seeds and black peppercorns in a dry pan until fragrant. Grind in a pestle and mortar, then add the garlic, salt, oregano and orange peel powder and grind to a thick paste. Add the orange juice, lime juice and rum, then put into a shallow dish and add the pork (or, if you have one big enough, put the marinade into a freezer bag along with the pork). Marinate in the fridge for a day, ideally, but for as long as possible otherwise, turning the meat regularly so it soaks up all the marinade.
When ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 220C. Put the pork in a roasting dish, skin side up, reserving any leftover marinade for basting later. Roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 160C then roast for 2 hours and 15 minutes, basting regularly with the pan juices and the marinade. Remove and leave to rest for 30 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, pour the roasting juices into a saucepan and simmer, skimming off any fat (a gravy separator is very useful for this).
When the pork has rested, shred it roughly with two forks, or carve with a knife and fork. Pour the pan juices over the carved pork, then serve alongside your chosen accompaniments (see suggestions above).