The Puerto Rican in me always screams for a traditional meal this time of year. Christmas in Puerto Rico is all about sharing music, drink and great food with friends and family. The traditional meal is a feast of lechón asado (spit-roasted pork), rice with pigeon peas, pasteles wrapped in plantain leaves, arroz con coco and, to drink, lots of rum and coquito.
To welcome the season, I decided to try a family recipe for pernil (roasted pork shoulder). For those of us who don’t have the facility to prepare a spit-roasted pig, pernil is a as close as we can get to good roasted pork.
I called my grandfather, Pito, before getting started to ask him about the recipe and the process. This was my first time and I was particularly worried about getting the chicharrón (pork rind) just right. A good pernil is measured by how good the chicharrón is, he explained. Pito walked me through his process, which included thoroughly piercing the skin with a sharp object (like a barbeque fork or metal kebob stick). Before I said goodbye, I told him how excited I was to make a “traditional” pernil. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he was quick to correct me and say this was his original recipe and not “traditional” pernil.
We enjoyed the roast and had plenty left over for a few rounds of cubanos throughout the week. I must confess my chicharron was not as crispy as I would have liked it to be. I don’t think this particular pernil would have passed Pito’s standards. He is a perfectionist when it comes to the kitchen. He approaches cooking like a science: exact measurements, process and technique. Pito’s un-traditional pernil recipe is wonderful and quirky. I will continue trying until I get it just right!
juice of 6 limes, about 1 cup of liquid
8 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 8-pound pork shoulder with skin
3 cups water
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 375°. With a sharp object, like a barbeque fork or a metal kebob stick, pierce the entire skin thoroughly (the perforations will allow for a very crispy chicarrón).
2. Grind the garlic in a mortar and pestle. Add lime juice, salt, oregano and cumin and mix well.
3. Use a small steak knife to perforate the skin and meat. The perforations should be about 2 inches deep and about 2″ apart. Use your hands to push the garlic mixture into the perforations. Place the pork in a roasting pan and rub the rest of the garlic mixture on the meat, avoiding the skin.
4. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes until the juices have caramelized in the bottom of the pan. Combine the water and vinegar and add to the bottom of the pan (avoid wetting the top side of the skin). Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour. Occassionally baste the pork with the liquid avoiding the skin.
5. Uncover the roast. Sprinkle the skin with a teaspoon of salt and roast for another 1 1/2 hours. Continue basting the pork every 20 minutes until the skin is crisp and toasted throughout and the thermometer reaches a temperature of 177°F.
Makes 12 servings.
With your pernil, enjoy a little jibarito music:

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