Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pernil (Puerto Rican Roasted Pork Shoulder)

I took a lot of flack over my non-smoker beef brisket recipe. The smoker cognoscenti descended upon me and gave me the literary equivalent of 40 lashes. So let me clarify: I am not an anti-smoker kind of guy. Meat roasted over a low and slow smoker fire is extraordinary. I love it. I used to be one of those smoker guys.

I got my first smoker nearly 30 years ago. Clarence Jones was my next-door neighbor at the time and he was out there working his smoker almost every weekend. He was an artist and master at it. I picked up a lot of tips and eventually bought my own smoker...a Weber Smokey Mountain...just like Clarence had.

In the beginning I smoked a lot. But then it got to be six times a year...then three times...then twice a year. Then in 2010 I got rid of my Weber Smokey Mountain. Life got in the way and I just did not want to devote my time to smoking meat.

As I mentioned in my beef brisket recipe, I started looking for ways to use my oven to get the same kind of meals I used to cook up in the smoker. This Mark Bittman recipe from The New York Times precisely fits that bill. First, it's unbelievably easy to prepare. A first grader with mediocre reading skills (which is on par with your typical smoker cognoscenti) can execute this recipe to perfection. Secondly, the flavor of this dish will astound well as six to eight of your friends.

When you are done cooking, the meat will be falling off of the bone. See that photo above? That's what you will get. It will be crisp, dark and a roast of consummate beauteousness. And you don't need no stinkin' can achieve a little piece of roasted pork shoulder heaven right in your very own oven...proof positive to the cognoscenti that evolution is working better for some of us than for others.

1 pork shoulder (4 pounds)
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large onion, quartered
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano*
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder**
1 tablespoon of salt
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (or more as necessary)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Lime wedges for serving


  1. Pre-heat oven to 300ยบ. Score meat's skin with a sharp knife, making a cross-hatch pattern.  Pulse onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, chile, salt, and pepper together in a food processor, adding oil in a drizzle and scraping down sides as necessary, until mixture is pasty. Blend in the vinegar.
  2. Rub this mixture well into pork, getting it into every nook and cranny. Put pork in a roasting pan and add just enough water to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. 
  3. Roast pork, uncovered, for three hours, turning every hour and adding more water as necessary, until meat is very tender. Finish roasting with the skin-side up until crisp, raising heat at end of cooking, if necessary.
  4. Remove from oven and let meat rest for 15 minutes. Meat should be so tender that cutting it into uniform slices is almost impossible. So just whack it up into chunks. Serve with lime wedges.

*There are two types of oregano, Turkish and Mexican. Turkish oregano is used in Mediterranean dishes like Italian sauces, Greek salads and Turkish kebobs. It has a sweet, strong flavor. What you want for this recipe is Mexican oregano. It is stronger and less sweet and goes perfect with spicy, hot, cumin-flavored dishes of Mexico. Any cook worth their weight will have both types in their pantry. If you don't have both, you can buy them here: .

**Regular chile powder can be substituted if you do not have ancho chile powder.

Wine pairing: For red, pick an Oregon Pinot Noir. For white, pick an Alsace Riesling.

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