No Holiday Meal Is Complete Without My Abuela’s Puerto Rican Pernil
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As a self-proclaimed "foodie," all of my most vivid memories from childhood revolve around the delicious dishes prepared in my Puerto Rican/Colombian households, and my Puerto Rican abuela’s famous pernil is no exception. Puerto Rican pernil, or slow-roasted pork shoulder, is a traditional dish that is most commonly served during the holiday season, alongside a heaping tray of arroz con gandules and habichuelas guisadas.
Growing up, my abuela would use any event – from baby showers to weddings – to make this succulent, slow-roasted pulled pork all year long, and I was recently inspired to keep the tradition alive in honor of our beloved matriarch. What I hadn’t realized, however, was that roasting a Boricua-approved pernil requires technique, as there are many diverse layers to a traditional pernil, and each one needs to be just right in order to keep everyone at la fiesta happy.
While traditional American pulled pork is often served swimming in barbecue sauce, Puerto Rican pernil is best enjoyed straight off the bone and dunked in just a little bit of the seasoned cooking liquid. For many Puerto Ricans, the experience wouldn’t be complete without the satisfying crunch of crispy chicharrón, or pork skin. You see, there are various textures and flavors within one single pan of roasted pernil to be enjoyed, and each one has its own devoted group of followers (I personally zero in on the juicy insides of the pork shoulder). However, if you love pork rinds or other variations of fried pork skin, this recipe will be just as satisfying for you, too.
The trick to getting a perfectly-seasoned, fall-off-the-bone pernil is to pierce the raw meat as deeply and as much as you can before slathering a homemade seasoning mixture all over the exposed sides of the pork shoulder and into the holes you created. For a crispy pork skin, on the other hand, I’ve found that carefully slicing the skin away from the meat, drying it completely, and propping it atop moistened toothpicks gives the best crunchy chicharrón. If you somehow find yourself with leftover pernil after the party, you can always place whatever’s left in an air-tight bag, and freeze it for up to 3 months for extended enjoyment, or use it in another pork shoulder recipe.
If using store-bought sazón and adobo, reduce the amount of salt listed below by half.
- 1 10-lb pork shoulder, bone-in, and skin-on
10 cloves of garlic
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh sofrito
¼ cup sea salt
3 tablespoons white vinegar or fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons salt-free adobo
1 ½ tablespoon salt-free sazón
1 ½ tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- Clean your pork shoulder thoroughly with cold water and vinegar, then pat it dry with a clean paper towel.
- Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the skin away from the skin so that it is no longer covering the meat, but still attached to the shoulder. Stab as many deep holes into the exposed sides of the meat as possible.
- In a food processor, pulse together the oil, sofrito, salt, and remaining spices a few times to create a roughly-chopped paste. Spread the paste all over the exposed sides of the meat, making sure to shove the paste into the holes you created. It is important to keep the skin completely dry and unseasoned at this point.
- Place the dry skin back over the exposed top of the pork shoulder and wrap the entire shoulder tightly in saran wrap before storing skin-side-down in the fridge for 12-48 hours. Before you start roasting, place about 10 toothpicks into a bowl of water to soak.
- When you are ready to roast your pernil, remove the saran wrap, peel back the skin, and remove any excess marinade from the skin.
- Preheat your oven to 400°F at this point.
- While the oven is heating up, place the pre-soaked toothpicks all over the top of the exposed pork shoulder, then carefully drape the unseasoned skin over the top of the toothpicks so that the skin is covering as much of the exposed meat as possible without actually touching it. The point of this step is to increase the air circulation underneath the skin for optimal crispiness.
- Cover the pernil with aluminum foil and place it in the oven for 1 to 1.5 hours.
- Remove the foil after 1.5 hours, lower the oven temperature to 375°F, and continue to roast the pernil for an additional 3-4 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Near the end of the roasting process, you can baste the skin with some of the oil that has collected at the bottom of the pan to make it extra crispy.
- When your pernil is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before removing the toothpicks, cutting away the chicharrón, and shredding the meat.
- Serve on a giant platter and enjoy!
- Main Dishes, Pork
- 12-15 servings
- Prep Time
- 12 hours
- Cook Time
- 5 hours
- Total Time
- 16 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds
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November 3, 2021 at 11:12AM