There is no better time to be at the top of the food chain than during Christmas in Puerto Rico.
I know many of my readers (and friends) are vegetarian, vegan even, and I respect your choices — except of course my dad’s crazy ass diet because it is so crazy. I prefer a mostly plant-based diet myself, and will go as far as to make accommodations at my table for you, but at Navidades, this girl embraces her carnivorous side and all protests to the contrary will be regarded with impatience and disdain, if regarded at all.
Perníl is in my D.N.A., and that, mi amor, is that.
Perníl, or oven-roasted pork shoulder, is a cornerstone of any festive or holiday meal for Puerto Ricans on or off the island. It is not complicated or hard to do (except for the part about running a hot oven for three or four hours in 80 degree heat) and looks and tastes fantastically juicy.
The crisp crackling skin is a highlight so never cover it during cooking, resting or serving. If you can’t find pork shoulder then try thick loins and add more scoring and more oil. You really need the skin for it to be perníl.
I would say more, but my keyboard has gone mad and I am struggling to get this out, so Feliz Año Nuevo to all and let me know how your roast turns out!
Perníl al horno (Oven-roasted pork)
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
10 black peppercorn
2 tsp dry oregano
1 tsp salt (Pedro goes very light on the salt. You can go up to a tablespoon, if you like salt)
1 Tbs olive oil
4-5 lb. Perníl delantero (pork shoulder Picnic cut), skin on
(You can season the perníl a couple of days ahead and refrigerate, uncooked. Some folks season and freeze it until they need it.)
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Place garlic, peppercorns, oregano, and salt in a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Add oil and mix well. Smear paste all over the pork, on the skin and as much under as you call get without taking it completely off. You can score the meat with 1/2″ cuts and imbed paste in the scores as well.
Place in a roasting pan and roast at 450°F for 30 minutes. Lower heat to 325°F and roast for 35 minutes per pound (an additional 2.5 hours, approximately or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 185°). Remove from oven and let rest for a half hour, uncovered. (NEVER cover as you will steam the cuerito to softness, widely regarded as a mortal sin in Puerto Rican homes. It ain’t perníl unless someone breaks a tooth on the cuerito).
Take 1-1.5 Tbs of Goya Adobo, mix with a tablespoon of oil and follow same procedure for rubbing and cooking.