The power of pernil


This missive, Gentle Reader, was supposed to be one of those “Here’s your starting point, but go ahead and change anything to suit your taste” recipes. This time a bowl.

But it’s not.

Because when I took my first bite of it, the tastes and textures were all so good and so well-suited for each other that flavors began zipping around my gob.

The base of your bowl is brown rice; three parts water to rice with about a teaspoon of salt added to the water. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower temp to medium-low until the water has cooked away, 30-45 minutes. When the rice is almost cooked add one cup of frozen corn kernels.

On top is chopped avocado and Cherub tomatoes.

But in the middle is pernil, one more absolutely, mind-blowingly delicious dish from Puerto Rico. This traditional Three Kings’ Day pork dish is neither quick nor easy, but the payoff is the Caribbean answer to the best Eastern N.C. barbecue you’ve ever had. If you have a pork shoulder within reach and some time on your hands, you could do a lot worse.

The reason I’m giving you a recipe from the New York Times and not somebody’s grandmother’s is because without having a kitchen full of tropical ingredients granny’s is going to be difficult to impossible to recreate. Puerto Ricans travel from the island with an extra suitcase, filled with herbs and other components that are impossible to acquire in the states.

The Times gives you the closest flavor to authentic without a ticket to San Juan (not that that’s a bad thing).

Thanks for your time.

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From the New York Times Cookbook

For the adobo:

8 to 9 large garlic cloves, finely minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

5 teaspoons fresh sour orange juice (or equal parts lime and orange juice)

4 teaspoons dried oregano

8 to 9 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

For the pork shoulder:

1 (8- to 9-pound) bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder, preferably with skin covering the entire top layer

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Prepare the adobo by combining all the ingredients and grinding in a large pilón or mortar and pestle, or simply mixing together well in a small bowl.

Prepare the pork: Rinse and dry meat well with a clean towel. Place pork skin-side down on a large rimmed sheet pan and poke deep, 1-inch holes throughout the meat and in the fatty layer with a paring knife, being careful not to pierce the skin. You can’t have too many holes.

Pour over adobo in batches, using your fingers to push adobo deep into the meat. If you’re worried about your hands smelling like garlic — which they will! — wear gloves.

Set out a long sheet of plastic wrap, layering with subsequent sheets as needed to ensure you can securely wrap the entire pork shoulder. Transfer pork to plastic wrap and wrap tightly, adding sheets of plastic as needed to ensure pork is completely airtight and juices are contained. Let marinate in the fridge overnight if possible, or at least least 2 to 3 hours. Set on a rimmed baking sheet or disposable aluminum foil pan in case it leaks.

Once the pork has marinated, heat oven to 400 degrees. Working over the sink, carefully remove pork from plastic wrap, discarding any remaining adobo. Place the marinated pork shoulder skin-side up in a deep roasting pan, and wipe the skin with a clean cloth. Rub skin with 1 teaspoon salt.

Loosely tent foil over the pork shoulder, spraying the foil with cooking spray or brushing with oil in any areas that may touch the skin, as it will stick. Transfer to the center of the oven.

Roast in the oven for 1 hour, then carefully remove the foil and rotate the pan. Continue roasting for another 2 to 3 hours, rotating every hour or so, and watching closely. Add water to the pan as needed when juices evaporate. The meat is done cooking when the juices run clear and the thickest part of the shoulder registers 160 degrees with a meat thermometer. The skin may take more time to crisp, but watch closely so that it does not burn. Tap the top of the skin with the back of a knife or metal spatula, and listen for a decidedly hollow sound.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer to a large cutting board. If desired, remove the skin from the roast by slicing it along the underside of the bone with a long, sharp, slender knife. Run the knife underneath the skin starting from the bottom until loosened, then lift the skin from the meat. Use kitchen shears to cut into serving pieces, and let them rest in the warm oven until ready to eat. Trim excess fat from the meat if desired, and slice as desired, in large chunks or slices, to serve.

Note from me: There is a garlic citrus marinade called “Mojo Criollo.” It’s in just about every grocery store these days. Giving the pork the occasional drink of this stuff while it’s cooking will only make it better.


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