Working It

Mojo pork. It's become part of the American vernacular cuisine menu. I find such pork, often called Cuban, sliced to order at the deli counters of supermarkets in communities where I know I'm the only Cuban roaming the aisles. Must be the old Cuban hegemony at work. 

For mojo, the sauce that favors the deli pork, is not exclusively or even originally Cuban -- well, everything comes from somewhere else. According to Wikepedia, it hails from the Canary Islands, many of whose folk migrated to Cuba. And there are versions in other nations of the Spanish Caribbean. In Brazil it's called molho, the Portuguese word that may be the origin of the Spanish. In a broad sense it just means sauce.

But it's the Cuban version that has taken over our stores and restaurants. Mojo de ajo -- garlic sauce -- or as my mother, a stickler for authenticity, would insist, mojo de ajo crudo -- raw garlic sauce. The ingredients are mashed garlic cloves -- Cubans seldom if ever chop garlic but mash it using mortar and pestle instead -- in sour orange juice, the kind called Seville oranges in England, where it's used for their great marmalade. Salt, of course -- traditional Cuban food seldom uses black pepper. And sometimes oregano and cumin, staples of The Cuban spice rack.

It's used as an adobo, a marinade, though the word has variations of meanings in other countries. Overnight for a pork roast or turkey, more for a whole pig, a few hours for chicken. Sometimes steak gets adobado. Or fish. A matter of taste.

And it's poured over finished dishes, most famously boiled yuca (cassava), yuca con mojo being the classic side dish to roast pork, along with black beans and rice. For saucing, the basic recipe gets a dousing of hot pork fat, usually right on the mortar. This releases the garlic flavor, though, as my mother insisted, the garlic is never cooked. 

Among Cubans mojo is often called mojito, which is also the name of the famous Cuban rum, lime, sugar and mint drink. But among non-Spanish speakers, it's mojo, pronounced as the African-American word. I would correct such pronunciation, a pedantic habit from my days as a Spanish-language teacher, but I don't anymore. Sure, it's mojo, as in the kind that's working. When I get a whiff of it I get a whiff of my life. Of my mojo.