Sundays were made for big dinners. As the weekend winds down, there’s nothing better than to recharge with a nice meal and look forward to the week ahead. And in winter, a long braise that fills the apartment with warmth and inviting aromas is nothing short of heavenly.
This pernil is of that ilk. While not technically a braise (since it is not cooked in a covered pot), it is roasted in the oven for hours, wafting scents of cumin, cocoa and citrus that are so lovely they create an impossible situation for those of us in the apartment with hungry bellies. The recipe is for people like me, who allow others to do all the work (in this case, the oven) and then sit back and bask in credit.
Based on my inexpert research, pernil is a classic Puerto Rican roasted pork shoulder made with a wet spice rub. From the host of recipes I saw online, it is almost always seasoned with garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and something acidic, whether it be vinegar or citrus juice. I have yet to ask my resident Puerto Rican friend what the “most classic” version is, but given that I added cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, cocoa powder, paprika and onions, I’ll venture to say that this isn’t it.
This is, however, jaw-droppingly delicious, enough to momentarily allow you to forget about your troubles and enjoy really well-flavored meat. I used a combination of a Mark Bittman recipe, one from Tyler Florence and one from Michael Chiarello (none of whom is Puerto Rican … hmmm). After marinating with Florence’s wet spice rub overnight, I patted the pork shoulder with an adapted version of Chiarello’s cocoa dry rub and then cooked according to Bittman’s instructions. The only thing I might do differently next time is allow the meat to cook for a little while longer, as it wasn’t quite at the falling-off-the-bone stage at 3 hours and 30 minutes. But it was past 7:30, we had been smelling the stuff since 4 and it seemed cruel to deny us any longer.
I served the pork with a very non-traditional black beans and brown rice, which were so delicious that they will be my lunch and dinner for the next few days. We had a much-needed culinary trip to the islands, a reminder that a good meal can transport you to another place, if only for a moment.
- 1 bone-in pork shoulder (4-7 pounds)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1-1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 tablespoon paprika
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1-1/2 cups water
1) Place the pork shoulder fat side up in a large roasting pan lined with tin foil. Score the surface of the meat with small slits.
2) Mix the garlic, oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper into a paste, and rub it liberally on the pork. Scatter the onions on and around the pork, then cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
3) After marinating, preheat the oven to 300˚F and allow the pork to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Mix the cumin, cocoa and paprika in a bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice all over the pork and then pat the spice mixture on it, making sure to coat the sides and bottom as well.
4) Pour the water into the bottom of the roasting pan and place in the warm oven. Roast for at least 3 hours, checking in periodically to turn the pork.
5) Once the pork is very tender, raise heat to 375˚F for 10-15 minutes to crisp skin. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing. It should be too tender to cut slices — chunks are your goal!
Black Beans and Rice
Adapted from Whole Foods
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups brown rice, cooked
- salt and pepper to taste
1) Saute the garlic and onions in olive oil on medium-high heat until slightly browned. Add the bell pepper, jalapeño, cumin and paprika and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cook for 5 minutes more.
2) Add the beans and simmer on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rice and mix well. Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.