Puerto Rican Cuisine — Pernil Asado: Roast Pork Shoulder

Puerto Rican cuisine today is a blend of the native Taíno culture’s practices (sadly, there are no remaining Taínos to keep this tradition alive) along with influences from European colonists (you guessed it, the Spanish) and African slaves that later inhabited the Caribbean island.  After the Spanish ceded the island to the United States in 1898 (one of the clauses in the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War), American influences became a part of the local cuisine as well.

Puerto Rico quick facts:

  • Capital: San Juan
  • Population: 3,667,084 (2012 estimate)
  • Notable Puerto Ricans: Most importantly, Edgar Martinez.  Also, Jose Feliciano, Tito Puente, Benicio del Toro, Ricky Martin.

The different parts from different cultures that make up a typical Puerto Rican meal are known as cocina Criolla (“Creole cuisine”).  It is starchy, meaty, often deep-fried, and always richly satisfying.  Pork is the meat of choice, having been popular since it was introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s.  Spit-roasted whole young pigs are a Christmastime tradition in Puerto Rico, and roasted pork shoulder (pernil asado, recipe follows) and fried pork rinds are popular year-round.

Pernil asado is enjoyed in many forms.  A large pork shoulder roast can feed a family for several days, and in Puerto Rico it is enjoyed sliced in sandwiches, shredded alongside rice and tostones (fried smashed plantains), or stuffed inside their version of the Mexican tamal, the pastel.  We enjoyed our alongside pigeon peas and rice, which will be featured in an upcoming post.

Pernil Asado

adapted from the December 2011 issue of Saveur

SERVES 4 TO 8

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs salt
  • 2 Tbs ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin
  • 10 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 3-pound boneless pork shoulder

The night before roasting, we cut several slits about one inch deep into the pork roast on all sides, then combined the rest of the ingredients into a marinade and let our pork shoulder absorb all the citrusy, garlicky flavors overnight:

porkmarinating

The next afternoon, we set the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and put in our pork roast, uncovered.  About every half hour we basted the top of the roast with some of the juices from the bottom of the pan.  Three-and-a-half hours later, after reaching an internal temperature of about 185 degrees, we deemed our pernil asado done:

porkroasted
For a shreddable, pulled pork texture, the reader is welcome to roast for an additional half hour to a full hour longer or until the meat starts to fall apart when gently prodded with a wooden spoon.

That is one fine looking roast!  Thanks to the slits cut into the roast before marinating and the frequent basting, the meat was fully permeated with the garlic, herbs, and citrus flavors.  The meat was tender and moist, and served us well over the next few days as a main course that night, a sandwich meat for lunches, and even as the base of a pasta sauce with the last remaining pieces.  We think it would be amazing as an enchilada or burrito filling as well, but we have yet to try either of those uses just yet.

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