Pincho Moruno: Hidden Waters Reveal Miraculous Pork Belly Kebabs

Pincho Moruno with Pork Belly

St. George, the patron saint of England, whose plucky, dragon-slaying derring-do is taken as emblematic of the English spirit, far from being a native of the British Isles, or for that matter, far from ever having come close to visiting them, was actually an adventurous squire of the modern-day country of Georgia who lived around the third century AD.

In a similar vein, Spain’s national icon, the highly venerated black Madonna of Guadalupe, to whom thousands flock annually, was unlikely to have been a Christian and there is some doubt that she was a virgin either. The Moorish legend of a saintly maiden who performed miracles of healing with the water from a spring concealed by a thicket of trees in the wilds of the remote region of Extremadura was popular in Spain from around the ninth century. The water source, Wadi Lubim, meaning hidden waters in Arabic, became corrupted over the centuries by Spanish tongues into Guadalupe and the miracles of the so-called maiden conflated with the holy miracles of the Virgin Mary. In this way, the symbol of the Virgin Mary with Moorish features became Santa Maria de Guadelupe, and her shrine can be visited today in the province of Caceres.

The veneration of the Black Madonna in the New World and Caceres’ possession of some of the grandest mansions erected by returning Conquistadores is no coincidence. In fact, almost perfect balance is achieved through the legend of the virgin appearing in the form of an Aztec teenager to conquistador Juan Diego in 1531 demanding that he persuade the Bishop of New Spain to build a cathedral on that spot. Another so-called Black Madonna, Our Lady of Guadalupe became the patron saint of Mexico during the same period in which the plunder of riches from the conquered Aztecs was paying for the construction of ostentatious palaces in a provincial sun-baked town.

Moorish influence remains as evident in Spanish cookery as the impact of the age of exploration and the conquest of the New World. The Moorish introduction of citrus, saffron, cumin and rice to Spain and the introduction from Mexico of peppers, tomatoes, beans, potatoes and corn fundamentally shaped the flavors and preparations we instinctively associate with Spanish cookery and that differentiate it from the cuisine of anywhere else.

Pincho Moruno with Pork Belly

One of the most ubiquitous and well-loved tapas menu items at tascas throughout Spain, pincho moruno, or Moorish kebab, might be the dish in which the Moorish and Mexican influences on Spanish cuisine are best demonstrated. Traditionally made with chunks of marinated pork grilled over coals it persists as an echo of the North African lamb brochette, adjusted to ignore halal and accommodate the Iberian obsession with pork. The hearty seasoning of cumin and hot or sweet pimenton, garlic and thyme pairs two of the most emblematic spices of the Moors and of Mexico.

In many parts of Castilla la Mancha and Extremadura, if you order pincho moruno in a tapas bar, you’ll be asked “sin o’ con?” (with or without), referring to the level of spiciness you’d like in your kebabs. A typical order would be “dos sin, tres con” (two mild, three spicy), the latter having been marinated in spicy paprika. In yet another example of Mexican influence on the most Spanish of things, it was in the monasteries around the Extremaduran town of La Vera where the first peppers brought from the New World were planted. Indeed, pimenton de la Vera remains the gold standard among Spanish pimentons.

Dryness is a frequent problem with grilled pork, even if it has been afforded a lengthy bath in an olive oil based marinade. Grilled lamb doesn’t usually have this problem due to its higher fat content, but the flare-ups that dripping grease provokes can give the meat an acrid, bitter taste. Seeking to mitigate both these problems, we traded the typical pork shoulder chunks for strips of luscious pork belly, and the grill for a ridged griddle pan. We also used soaked bamboo skewers instead of metal ones to add even more moisture to the equation. The result: moist, delicious meat with the crispy edges synonymous with grilled food but without the burnt flavor.

Far be it for us to tamper with such a time-honored recipe, but given pincho moruno’s adoptionist history of accommodating such a variety of influences, the upgrade from shoulder to belly probably isn’t that big an issue even for traditionalists. That said, perhaps in several hundred years, food historians of the future researching a fundamental step change in the preparation of this dish may happen upon these web pages in some dusty, forgotten corner of the internet and find that it all began here. It can’t be any less likely that a rogue wanderer’s preposterous claims to having defeated a mighty dragon resulting in 60 million souls in a far-away nation devoting themselves to your legend, can it?

Pincho Moruno (Moorish Kebabs)
serves 2 as a main, 4 as a tapa


  • 1-1.5lbs (about 3/4kilo) fresh pork belly, cut into slim slices.
  • 6-10 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 healthy teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 heaped teaspoon sweet or hot Spanish pimenton
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • a couple of good jiggers of olive oil to coat
  • (optional) a splash or more of Spanish sherry vinegar

Note: you’ll also need about 10 pre-soaked bamboo skewers.


  1. Heat a griddle pan or grill to medium high, not screaming hot as pork belly will burn
  2. Brush off most of the garlic from the meat and load skewers so they’re tightly packed
  3. Cook, turning every couple of minutes, until skewers are brown and crispy on all sides. 8-10 mins total per skewer.
  4. Allow meat to rest for up to five minutes, as it will setup and be easier to get off the skewer after this
  5. Serve with patatas bravas or other typical tapas and plenty of inexpensive red wine.

13 thoughts on “Pincho Moruno: Hidden Waters Reveal Miraculous Pork Belly Kebabs

  1. I think I hear my heart sing. Marinated pork belly kabobs with garlic, cumin, and pimenton? Count me in. My grill pan always creates a smoke bomb in my apartment, but this would be so worth it.

    Interesting story about the black Madonna. My grandmother one day said she remembered how her own mother had a black Madonna in the house and she wanted one for herself. My uncle found her two of them. I wonder if Grandma would have believed the truth if she read this…

  2. I’ve never thought of pork belly this way… what a smashing idea to have it crisped on little skewers. I need to try this for myself.

  3. The shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe is in Guadalupe, not Caceres. The whole town of Guadalupe is basically organized around tourism to the shrine (the town is not large), and selling of trinkets about the virgin or copper mining (a former industry) seems to be how many of the townspeople make their living.

  4. @2Bannie – well-spotted. It should read “…in the province of Caceres.” Now corrected. Guadalupe sounds a bit like Lourdes in SW France. The whole town is in the business of trinkets and, due to the spring that Lourdes discovered, canisters of all shapes and sizes for taking home some of the healing waters.

  5. @Rachel: apparently, there are a ton of black virgins out there, not just the two Guadalupes, and the probably each have their own stories and are venerated for different things.

  6. Forgive me for being naive, but are the ingredients marinated together before cooking? I see, “brush most of the garlic off” and thought I was missing something. I’ve just recently discovered pork belly and this looks delish!

    1. @Connie: yes, an hour or so of marinating will be sufficient, but you don’t need to worry too much about getting all the marinade off, just make sure there isn’t a lot of garlic remaining as it will burn when you cook the kebabs.

  7. Hi, I have these marinating now and I am very excited to give this a try. I am taking these to a tapas dinner tomorrow. I am assuming that an overnight marinade would be OK. I plan on grilling a few of these today for lunch and cooking the rest tomorrow before the dinner. My question is this, what sauce if any would this be served with? I am also making Ottolenghi’s fried olives with his spicy yogurt dipping sauce and I wondered if this would be paired with a sauce traditionally? Has anyone tried this with a sauce? Any recommendations? Has anyone marinated this overnight?

    1. @Stephanie: we’re excited that you’re making this recipe. Marinating overnight will be great. There’s so much flavor already in the pork belly, but you’ll definitely have it garlicky delicious by the time it’s ready to grill. Do be careful with flare-ups if you’re grilling it over flames. There isn’t typically a sauce served with pinch moruno. Most often they are dressed with just olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. If you must have a sauce, a romesco would be nice as the roasted peppers would accentuate the smokiness of the cumin in the marinade. Please let us know how your guests liked it.

  8. Thank you for your response! We just grilled a few of these to taste it, and it is truly amazing! This is a keeper! I don’t think they need a sauce either, but I agree with you on the flavors. Wow! Thanks again! I cannot wait to cook these tomorrow.

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