Holidays with Loisa: Chef Yadi & Doña Esperanza's Pernil

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, pork shoulder, holidays, chef yadi cooking pernil

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.

Chef Yadi and her mother Doña Esperanza with their pernil

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

sofrito, sazon, adobo, pernil, peppers

seasoned pernil for the holidays with sofrito and sazon

peppers for the pernil

chef yadi and her pernil

sneaking a bite of pernil

pernil with peppers

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