How To Make Pernil
Pernil is a slow-cooked pork roast, usually a shoulder, butt, or leg, that is very typically enjoyed during the holidays. It is a classic Puerto Rican dish, and also a classic dish in the Dominican Republic, though unsurprisingly there are small differences that mean a lot. There are Cuban versions, too. Typical seasonings include salt, pepper, sofrito, Adobo, oregano, and sometimes a Sazon packet.
If you want to make pernil at home, here is a step-by-step guide to help you create this succulent and flavorful dish.
For making pernil, you will need the following ingredients:
- 1 (7-pound) bone-in or boneless pork shoulder
- ¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
- 12 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons Adobo seasoning (the powdered canned kind)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning at the end
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning at the end
- Juice of 2 lemons and 1 orange
Score the fat on the pork shoulder in a criss-cross hatch fashion. Then, cut deeply once in each direction across the pork, like you are going to cut it into four quarters, but then leave them attached at the bottom. Use a sharp knife to make about 20 slits, about 1 inch deep, all over the meat. Place the meat in a 13 x 9 baking pan, or another shallow baking pan large enough to comfortably hold the meat with some space around it.
Combine the oil, garlic, fresh and dried oregano, Adobo, paprika, salt, and pepper. Rub the mixture all over the meat, working it all over the surface and into the slits. Cover the pork with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Bring the pork to room temperature, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300°F. Bake the pork, covered for 3 hours, then remove the foil and bake for another 3 to 4 hours at the same temperature, until the pork is fall-apart tender. The internal temperature should be at least 165°, but it may be higher, which is fine – it’s most important that the meat is super tender. If you would like a crustier exterior, turn the heat to 375°F and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the outside of the pork has a nice browned crust.
Let the pernil sit for at least 20 minutes, then use your fingers (if it’s not too hot; some people like to wear kitchen gloves to protect their fingers from the heat), or two forks to pull the meat into chunks. Sprinkle the meat with the lemon and orange juice, season with additional salt and pepper, and serve hot or warm.
As the pernil cooks, the outside skin and fat layer get crunchy and form a crust, called the Cuero. It’s completely delicious, and you should make sure to chop up the crackling crust and let everyone have a bit with their portion. It’s some people’s favorite part of the pernil!
In many Puerto Rican homes, it’s not Christmas without pernil, and all of the traditional sides. If you’re going all in for this holiday meal, you have to whip up a batch of Coquito to go with it, the classic Puerto Rican coconut-based eggnog that is also a mainstay of Christmas celebrations.
What to Serve with Pernil
Guillermo’s family usually serves their pernil with rice and pigeon peas (Arroz con Gandules) and tostones, (smashed and fried plantains), which is a common way to enjoy pernil in Puerto Rico. Some folks add a packet of Sazon seasoning to the marinade—if you do that, hold back a bit on the salt. Between the Adobo and the Sazon there’s a lot of saltiness going on.
Other Pork Recipes
If you enjoy making pernil, you might also want to try other pork recipes such as One Skillet Creamy Mustard Pork Chops, Mom-and-Pop Pulled Pork, Prosciutto and Pork Banh Mi, and Pork Schnitzel with Quick Pickley Cucumber Salad.
Q: What is the best cut of meat for making pernil?
A: The best cut of meat for making pernil is usually a bone-in or boneless pork shoulder. The fat in the shoulder helps keep the meat moist while slow roasting, and the crispy, crunchy skin (cuerito) is the most coveted part of the roast.
Q: How long does it take to cook pernil?
A: This pernil recipe calls for about 6 hours at 300°F, but the cooking time can vary depending on the weight of the pork. It’s important to ensure that the pork is fall-apart tender before serving.
Q: What are the traditional sides to serve with pernil?
A: Traditional sides to serve with pernil include rice and pigeon peas (Arroz con Gandules) and tostones (smashed and fried plantains). These are common accompaniments to pernil in Puerto Rico.
Q: Can I use store-bought seasoning for making pernil?
A: Yes, you can use store-bought Adobo and Sazon seasoning for making pernil, but it’s important to adjust the salt content accordingly, as there can be a lot of saltiness going on between the Adobo and the Sazon.
Q: What is the significance of pernil in Puerto Rican cuisine?
A: Pernil holds a significant place in Puerto Rican cuisine, especially during the holidays. It is a traditional dish that is often enjoyed during Christmas celebrations, and its garlicky, succulent, slow-roasted pork is a staple in Puerto Rican Christmas dinners.
Q: Can I make pernil ahead of time?
A: Yes, you can make pernil ahead of time and reheat it before serving. The flavors often develop even more when the pernil is allowed to sit for a while before reheating.