The history of my favorite Christmas treat and meal during this special holiday with family, probably starts, as with most good Puerto Rican families worth their weight in salt, with a great Puerto Rican pork shoulder roast, called a “Pernil”. Oh and lets not forget that most delicious of aperatifs, coquito, but that’s another story for a later time. But before I go on a ramble, I want to make special mention of my auntie Nellie (shout out!), my mothers only sister who I adore and love with all my heart, not only because she’s blood, but also more importantly, for keeping up with family tradition and always remembering me during this special and touching time of year. It’s always for me at least, a time of reflection and introspection and she makes it so easy to get through it. So this is a special homage to her amazing pernil, that she makes for us every Christmas day; and it’s amazing. Phew! Huge smile across my face!
As Ted Allen from Chopped would say “moving on”!
So sometimes when shooting my food, I can’t seem to make up my mind which photo to use, so in this case I went ahead and used both a cropped version (in camera crop) and a fuller image. They’re all good enough to illustrate this dish. Photo dilemma! So a very dear and close friend of mine, asked me to make this roast for a small private and intimate party, that she wanted to host for a mutual friend and whom also, was the guest of honor (he shall remain nameless to protect the guilty), and wouldn’t you know it, the sucka cancelled on us yet again for the second time. Oh well, more for us. And as they say, his loss is our gain! Can I just say that this pork roast was outstanding! No kidding when I say that. The crackling was over the top perfect and surpassed even my own expectations. I mean after all, my aunt Nellie’s roast pork is always perfect and never fails to deliver in the crackling department (if there were such a dept). Just sayin! Taps on own shoulder for self adulation and personal recognition of job well done. Just kidding! No I’m not! 🙂
1 pork shoulder with fat cap (Pernil) 6-12 lbs
1 roasting pan (I used a lecreuset 9 x 7)
extra virgin olive oil
2 rosemary sprigs
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes (optional)
freshly ground pepper
heavy duty aluminum foil
With a sharp chefs knife, carefully cut back the fat cap (skin) of the pork by placing the knife under the outer edge of the skin and slowly and gently working the edge of the blade underneath while slicing to disconnect any connective tissue. Keep slicing without just underneath till you get to the back side of the roast where it makes contact with the bone. Leave that part alone and leave this part attached. You do now want to completely detach the skin or fat cap from the roast, but want to keep it hinged like a flap. Fold the flap back and with your knife, poke some holes using the tip of the knife. You can place sliced or slivered garlic gloves into the holes and also, sofrito like is typical of this style of roast. I find that this step is totally unnecessary and doesn’t lend any additional flavor to the roast in my opinion. However, I have done it this way and it’s equally delicious. My method works just as well and skips the addition of the sofrito.
After peeling back the skin of the roast, (for a large roast 6 lbs or bigger) salt vigorously with plenty of kosher salt and lots of fresh cracked (ground) pepper. I use a spice grinder or small food processor to grind my black pepper and then mix the salt and pepper together in a small bowl (mis en place) to avoid having to use the pepper mill, as this can be time consuming: I just find it easier for big or larger roast, like turkey and pork roast shoulders and pork loins. Season generously with ground garlic powder and also, dried crushed oregano. Season the under side of the pork too. Cover the flesh with the skin or fat cap and truss the skin using butchers twine. There are 2 ways to truss or tie the roast, but you can use the simpler method of tying individual strings across the roast, by spacing at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Now drizzle the outside of the roast with plenty olive oil, and season the outside generously with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, and cover with aluminum foil or saran wrap (cling wrap) and allow to marinade over night for 12-24 hours, or even, 72 hours if you have the luxury of time, in the refrigerator. I marinated mine for 72 hours this time out and it was the perfect roast. (Keep the seasoned roast in the coolest spot of the refrigerator at a temperature of 36-40 degrees Fahrenheit). A good refrigerator thermometer is a must have to figure out what your true temp is. Once you are ready to cook your roast, remove from the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to roasting and also, preheat your oven to 450 at least 20 minutes before placing into the oven. (Note: I also generously salted the skin with additional Maldon sea salt, just before placing into the oven as this will give your roast a crispy crackling skin). The Roasting pan should be covered with aluminum foil and started at a very high heat of 450 degrees for the first 3o minutes, and then reduced to 325 degrees. The degree of roasting time is determined by the weight of the pernil. Roast 30 minutes for every pound. So for a 6 pound roast, you would roast for 3 hours. One hour before your roast is due to come out of the oven, remove the aluminum foil from the roast and turn the heat up to 450 to crisp the skin. (In the past using this method, I would pour a cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan or tray, I didn’t this time and the roast was perfectly moist). The roast should read using a meat thermometer 170-180 degrees. You can pull the roast if using a meat thermometer 5-10 degrees lower than the recommended time, as the roast will continue to cook while it rest. You should rest your roast for at least 15-20 minutes before carving. After a while you won’t need to use a meat thermometer and can determine doneness, by feel and look. (Note: a good oven thermometer is also a great tool to have on hand to determine the true temp of your oven). For my oven, after using an oven thermometer, I determined that my oven was off by as much as 25 degrees. So for a true 350 degrees, I need to set my oven to 375 degrees if using the middle rack, which I use almost invariably. Well, that’s it Charlie! Thanks for looking!