by Chef Yadira Garcia
When you enter a Caribbean household around the holidays– especially on Noche Buena– you’ll almost certainly smell the wafting and intoxicating smells of a pernil blanketing the home. Whether or not you’re familiar with this classic celebratory dish, the aroma – along with the musical sounds of salsa and merengue – will somehow make you feel right at home.
Pernil is the centerpiece of the dining table in most Latin homes this time of year, and for a good reason: carefully seasoned, succulent meat and a signature crackling crispy skin often referred to as cuero. So what is pernil? This delectable piece is the pork shoulder of the Lechon or pig– a smaller, fatty cut with very tender meat. The reason it only makes an appearance on very special occasions is because you have to be ready to give it the love and time - think 6-9 hours with at least a day of marinating– it deserves to produce the perfect pernil.
While many Latin traditions have evolved over the decades due to our migrations, availability of specialty ingredients, or the beautiful blending of our customs with others through marriages, births, and friendships, there are culinary cornerstones that carry the crest of our culture. Pernil, Moro De Guandules, Pasteles, and Ensalada Rusa are ours in the Caribbean– emblems of how we holiday and celebrate and extend our heart on a plate with loved ones.
However, just like a good Sofrito recipe, you will find that Pernil recipes and techniques are personal and vary from home to home. Por ejemplo, my mother always serves Pernil with her signature escabeche– a flavorful mix of sautéed onions and peppers. One thing is for sure, if your family has a recipe, save it and cook it with a loved one to keep the treasure alive for generations to come. Here, I’ll be proudly sharing my own family recipe that my Mami, Doña Esperanza, passed down to me– and I’m very happy to have her in the kitchen with me to cook this special dish.
¡Feliz Noche Buena!
Chef Yadi & the Loisa Familia
Chef Yadi's Pernil
Chef Yadi gets in the kitchen with her mother, Doña Esperanza, to cook her family's ancestral Pernil recipe for the holidays. This classic celebratory dish is a tender, succulent pork shoulder with crispy, crackling skin seasoned carefully with Sofrito, Sazón, and lots of love.
10-12 lb Pernil (pork shoulder)
1 lemon to make lemon water for cleaning your pork
2 - 3 tbsp salt
1 red onion , diced
1 head of garlic, minced
½ cup ajicito peppers, diced
2 Cubanelle Peppers, diced
3 tbsp cilantro, chopped
4 tbsp Dominican oregano
5 Tbsp Loisa Sazón
5 Tbsp Loisa Adobo
4 Tbsp Loisa Sofrito
3 Tbsp Black Pepper
Juice of 4 sour oranges (or juice of half lime and juice of 4 lemons)
2 boxes low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
Preparing the Pernil (24 Hours in Advance)
Clean your Pernil with lemon water, Pat dry and Generously Salt with Kosher or Sea Salt. Place on a baking or roasting tray, skin side down.
Using a knife, poke holes about 1” - 2” deep all around the meat.
In a pilon or blender, mash or blend garlic , ajicito peppers, cubanelle peppers, minced red onion, 4 tsp Loisa Sazón, 4 tsp Adobo + Sofrito, black pepper, sour orange juice (or lemon & lime combination) cilantro, and culantro (optional). This should create a thick paste for seasoning the meat.
Using a teaspoon or gloved hands, stuff the paste into the holes you created, then rub all around the pork shoulder. Cover tightly with foil and place in the fridge to marinate for 24 hours.
Cooking the Pernil
The next day, preheat the oven to 375°F. In a roasting tray, empty two boxes of organic vegetable broth, 1 cup of white wine, 1 tbsp Loisa Sazon + 1 tbsp of Loisa Adobo. This is the basting liquid that your pork shoulder will sit in
Transfer your marinated Pernil into the roasting tray with the basting liquid. Cover with foil, and cook for approximately 4 hours
After 4 hours, uncover the Pernil, baste with the liquid, and rotate the tray, Recover and repeat this step after another hour. Total cook time will vary depending on the size of your Pernil, but should be about 5 - 7 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
In the final hour, remove the foil so that the skin can roast and and becomes crisp and bubbly. Since oven temps vary, if you are not achieving desired crispiness, finish in the broiler for 3-5 minutes until skin is desired color
Once the skin is crisp, remove from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes to lock in the juices. Then serve or carve as desired.
Serve with a garlic mojo, Sofrito, on the side, or like my family does, a fragrant escabeche poured over the top.