In midnights, in cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in
strife." -Seasons Of Love.
During the 1980's, The AIDS epidemic struck the core of Key West. Even through the difficult times, the small island community still knew how to party and celebrate life. We joined the party for a couple of weeks in the summer of '87 to celebrate our 3rd anniversary. Innocent times.
July 4th, 1987. Key West, Florida.
Hot days. Hot Havana nights.
After spending the week prior to the 4th drinking like locals, inhaling deep sunsets, dancing until dawn, devouring conch, fresh seafood, Key Lime tarts, and Cuban fare, Michael and I found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the annual July 4th city-wide picnic benefiting the Key West Visiting Nurses Association And Hospice. It was a grand affair that bonded the community together with heartfelt purposeful common goals. As the somber and uplifting picnic wound down, the antsy crowd shuffled en masse to the White Street Pier for the real party. Bedecked from head to toe in matchy matchy beachwear, we joined the throngs of gays on the massive concrete slab.
The first section of the White Street Pier had been parlayed into an elaborate discotheque with a dance floor, sound system, lights, and multiple bars. Jutting several hundred yards out into the Atlantic Ocean, the heavy stark pier seemed to gently float above the water under the weight of throbbing smooth skinned boys dancing in the heat of the sun. Hot. Wild. Free.
When the sun crashed into the sea, pulsing multi-colored lights painted the wet bodies of our thumping tribe while submerged lights beneath the pier reflected undulating silhouettes of graceful stingrays silently gliding through the water like lost sunken kites. Mesmerizing and beautiful.
Without warning, in the distance, wispy fireworks shot into the sky from an invisible barge anchored out in the ocean far from the pier. Flickering. Fluttering. Twinkling. Falling. As the fireworks grew louder and more intense, the fiery rain shattered the black sky with blazing thunderous light. After 30 minutes or so, silence swept over the pier before a deafening recording of Kate Smith's "God Bless America" ushered in the finale, blasted through the darkness, washed across the quiet black water, and spilled onto the boys of summer. It. Was. Glorious.
It took a few fun filled days to recover from Kate Smith, the stingrays, the sun, our anniversary, and the pier. On our final night in Key West, we bellied up to a walk-up food shack on Duval Street, ordered Cuban pork with yellow rice, dangled our legs off the dock of Mallory Square, and absorbed the sunset. Happy.
Traditionally, Cuban mojo pork is made with well marbled pork roast or shoulder. After marinating overnight in a highly seasoned sour orange marinade, the pork is roasted low and slow until the meat falls apart and the melted fat caramelizes into crackling pork candy. I kept the same flavor profile with a leaner, cleaner, and simpler approach.
Grilled Cuban Mojo Pork Skewers.
I peeled and smashed 7 cloves of garlic before adding them to sauce pan along with 1 cup olive oil. I brought the oil to a simmer over a medium flame, reduced the heat, let the garlic steep for 2 minutes, and pulled it from the heat to cool.
In lieu of sour oranges, I zested 2 limes, 2 lemons, and one orange. After tossing the zest into the cooled garlic infused olive oil, I added equal parts fresh squeezed lime juice, orange juice, lemon juice ( 1 cup total), 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon oregano, salt, and ground black pepper.
After reserving 1/2 cup of the marinade for basting , I sliced 1 pound Stone Cross Farm pork tenderloin into 1 1/2' cubes, tossed the meat into the remaining marinade, covered it with plastic wrap, and slid the pork into the refrigerator for 8 hours.
I fired up a charcoal grill, let the coals burn down, threaded the marinated pork onto pre-soaked wooden skewers along with Marion County indigo rose cherry tomatoes, Casey County zucchini ribbons, and Boyle County candy onions. After pouring a glass of wine, I placed the skewers onto the grill and let them rip for about 3 minutes per side, turning them a quarter turn at a time until they cooked through.
When the pork reached an internal temperature of 140 degrees, I pulled the skewers from the grill and nestled them onto steamed annatto-stained long grain white rice before finishing with Stonehedge Farm julienned raw sugar snap peas, slivered red bell pepper, grilled lime halves, and fresh parsley.
Packed with garlicky citrus overtones, the tender pork played nice with the slight smokiness of the charred zucchini and onions. While the softened collapsed tomatoes added sweet wet acidity, the slivered sugar snap peas and peppers provided biting fresh crunch.
Hot Kentucky nights..