These Cuban pork pinchos (kebabs) are amazing! What makes this a Cuban pincho? The sour orange! Sour oranges have a unique and distinct citrusy, sweet and sour flavor for an unmistakable tang. Sour oranges are widely available throughout the Caribbean and are an authentic staple in Cuban marinades. When you mix it with garlic, oregano, cumin and other seasonings, you get the best ever marinade – hands down!
Sour oranges are also called Seville oranges but they came from Asia. The Moors brought them to Spain and Spain introduced them to the Caribbean and the Americas. Living in south Florida, they are widely available when in season. A great way to have this ingredient year-round is to juice and freeze them in ice cube trays. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer plastic bag and just pull the cubes as needed. If you can’t find it, you can substitute with equal parts of orange and lime or lemon juice. But if you can get your hands on sour oranges, it’s worth buying, juicing and freezing.
But what exactly is a pincho and where does it come from? Pintxo (Basque) or Pinchu (Asturias) are traditional small snacks typically eaten in bars in northern Spain, originating in the Basque region of Spain. Pinchos are served on sliced bread and the topping is spiked into the bread using a toothpick or skewer. Toppings can vary and they don’t need to be grilled meats. As Spaniards moved to the Caribbean, like my grandparents, they brought their traditions and adapted the to locally sourced and grown items.
Shown above, the pork tenderloin packaged strip and the pre-sliced vegetable packages. I purchased two veggie packages.
In a Pyrex measuring cup combine sour orange juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, cumin, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Set aside. The pork tenderloin I purchased was actually two narrow strips, perfect for kebabs since I need 4 long strips of meat to cut into cubes. Before I cut the meat into cubes, I need to remove the silver skin. Unlike fat, silver skin is connective tissue that doesn’t melt away, it must be removed (see picture above). Cut each strip in half for a total of four thin strips. Then cut the strips into 1 inch chunks.
Note: Cuban cuisine, generally speaking, isn’t spicy like other Caribbean cuisines, even though both Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers grow on the island and they pack a wallop of a punch! The Aji Cachucha, a sweeter pepper that’s very similar in appearance to the Scotch Bonnet, is commonly used in various dishes and sauces. Additionally Cuban cuisine doesn’t use cilantro.
Place the pork in a non reactive container – that’s glass, ceramic, stainless steel bowl or plastic bag and pour the marinade over the meat. Toss to coat and combine, then refrigerate for at least four hours. You can marinade overnight, just keep in mind the longer it sits, the acid will cook the meat. Think how acid can cook fish in ceviche!
Note: Don’t marinate in reactive bowls such as aluminum or cast iron. Reactive materials can change the flavors in the food when they come in contact with acid. Also, if you want to have extra mojo to baste the skewers as you grill, use 2/3 to marinate and keep 1/3 or so for basting. You shouldn’t baste with marinade that has been in contact with raw meat.
When you’re ready to grill, allow the meat to rest for 30 minutes before preparing to remove the chill. If you don’t have stainless steel skewers, soak wooden skewers for 30 minutes to minimize burning. Slice and prepare the vegetables of your choice and set up your assembly station to make the pinchos. Don’t forget to clean and preheat the grill. It’s important for the grill to be very hot when you place the skewers.
Note: Invest in stainless steel skewers. Wooden skewers often burn and break and they could leave splintered pieces of wood in the meat. Stainless steel skewers are easier to handle and you don’t run the risk of them snapping or burning. I got mine at Sur Le Table. Mine are no longer available, but Amazon has a comparable product – click here for the link .
Skewer the meat alternating between pork and vegetable pieces, but don’t compress them. They should be a little loose so they cook evenly. Grill skewers for 8-10 minutes over direct high heat, with the lid closed, turning and basting only a few times. Pork should have some charred edges with a golden color and barely pink in the center, vegetables should have charred edges. Lean tenderloin meat doesn’t have a lot of fat so be careful not to overcook as the meat will become tough. Remove from the grill and tent with foil for 5 minutes to allow the meat to rest. Serve warm and enjoy!
Cuban Pork Pinchos (Kebabs)
A delicious pork pincho (kebab) marinated in a traditional Cuban marinade made with sour orange. Grilled to perfection, this is an extremely flavorful kebab and perfect for any summertime gathering.
- about 2.3 lb. pork boneless tenderloin
- red onion, quartered and cut in chunks
- red bell peppers, cut in chunks
- green bell peppers, cut in chunks
- yellow squash, cut in ½ inch slices
- zucchini sqush, cut in ½ inch slices
- baby portobello mushrooms, whole
Cuban Mojo Marinade
- ½ cup sour orange juice substitute equal parts orange and lime juice
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 Tablespoons garlic cloves, mashed or finely minced
- 1 Tablespoon dry oregano
- 1½ teaspoon dry cumin
- zest of a lemon
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt prefer Diamond brand, less salty than Morton
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Making the Mojo Marinade
Combine all the ingredients in a mason jar or measuring cup. Set aside.
Making the Pinchos
Trim the tenderloin by removing the silver skin. If your tenderloin is one piece, cut into four even long strips and cut the strips into 1-inch chunks. If your tenderloin is two pieces, cut each piece in half lengthwise, then in 1-inch chunks.
Place the chunks in a non-reactive bowl or plastic bag and pour the marinade over the pork. Toss to combine and ensure the pork is evenly coated with the marinade. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Note: If you wish to baste the pinchos, reserve a third of the mojo and marinate the pork with the remaining mojo.
Remove from refrigerator for 30 minutes before skewering and soak wooden skewers for 30 minutes to minimize burning if not using stainless steel skewers. Set up an assembly station with the vegetables.
Brush the cooking grates clean and preheat grill. While grill pre-heats, assemble the pinchos.
Skewer the pork chunks alternating with vegetable chunks, but don't pack them tight. Allow a little wiggle room for even cooking.
Grill skewers for 8-10 minutes over direct high heat, with the lid closed, turning and basting only a few times. Pork should have some charred edges with a golden color and barely pink in the center, vegetables should have charred edges.
Remove from the grill and tent with foil for 5 minutes to allow the meat to rest. Serve warm.