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Welcome... to Jurassic Pork

I’ve been going at this for a couple of months and not once have I mentioned anything with pork.

This realization has brought much shame to not only me, but my family and heritage as well. As a matter of fact, this is probably the reason why my little blog has not taken off yet. I completely understand, Internet. And I do not blame you.

But fear not, for I have a remedy…

Pernil.

Or as you may know it…  Roasted Pork Shoulder.

Why not just call it Roasted Pork? Well, because to us Hispanics, Pernil (pronounced with as many spanish accents as you can imagine) is a magical, magical word that roughly translates to “Food of the Gods”. The mere sound of the word being said raises the hair on the back of our necks. It’s a dish that is almost synonymous with the holidays and for very good reason. Actually, I can’t remember a single holiday season where a Pernil did not decorate the table.

Just thinking about it is getting me excited! Let’s get into it:

Pernil:  

1 each ~ 6-9 lb. Pork Picnic Shoulder Cut  
1 nicely sized ~ Head of Garlic  
1 teaspoon ~ Salt (for garlic preparation)  
3 teaspoons ~ Salt
1 ½ teaspoons ~ Freshly Ground Pepper
1 teaspoon ~ Rosemary
1 teaspoon ~ Thyme
1 teaspoon ~ Oregano
healthy drizzling ~ Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Notes:

  • This is typically a 6-12 pound hunk of meat. In order to get the best flavor out of it, marinating is essential! So make sure you give it at least 12 hours of marinating in your fridge before you pop it in the oven.
  • There are 2 different measurements for the salt because of the preparation of the garlic. So depending on how you cut the garlic (explained below) the first measurement is totally optional. Remember, if you do it this way, cut back on the 2nd measurement of salt.
  • The herbs are totally optional. The meat will be perfect with just salt, pepper and garlic. So it depends on your taste.
  • If you’re not familiar with your meats, here is your lesson for the day: The shoulder goes from the top, behind the head, down to the leg. But there are two different cuts that come from the shoulder:

  • The ever popular Boston Butt, the upper shoulder, comes to mind first. “But why is it called the ‘butt’ when it’s the shoulder”, you ask? Well in 18th century New England, lesser expensive meats, like the shoulder, were packed into casks or barrels – which are also known as butt’s – so they can be shipped to other regions. The Boston part of the name is simply because the cut was popularized in the Boston area, and when shipped out, other regions referred to it as the town it came from. And that’s why it’s called the Boston Butt even though it has nothing to do with the rear end of the pig.
  • The second shoulder cut, the lower half, is the Picnic/Picnic Shoulder/Picnic Arm. While both the Boston and Picnic cuts are well marbleized with fat and both are the go-to cut for the blessing that is pulled pork, the Picnic is cheaper and less popular due to where it’s located. Since it’s part of the leg, it is used to keep the pig mobile, so it may be tougher in comparison to the lesser used Boston Butt which doesn’t move as much. But that won’t stop us from eating the crap out of it! 
  • Other differences are the bones. The Boston Butt has the shoulder blade bone sometimes attached while the Picnic typically always gets sold with the shank bone. Also, the Picnic gets sold with a considerable amount of fat on it, that when utilized, gives the meat crazy good flavor, not to mention creates a defining characteristic when roasted: Chicharrón.

Alright, enough talk! Where do we start?

Oh! I know… How about this giant chunk of meat?

Before we dive in though, get your stuff together.

  • Get a roasting pan and line it with some heavy duty aluminum foil. Trust me. You’ll thank me later.

The only thing you really have to cut is the garlic, unless you’re using fresh herbs, which is awesome if you are.

  • Get everything chopped and keep it at arms reach. 

For the garlic, if you have a head of it and can’t stand the time consuming peeling, give this video a try. I just found it and I wonder if it works, let me know!

Also, here’s the optional part: When it comes to garlic, crushing it and making a paste can help spread the flavor around more. So if you have a trusty Pilón(Mortar and Pestle for you common folk), whip it out and get to crushing the garlic along with a bit of salt. If you don’t own one, making a garlic paste is a cinch. Just chop the garlic as fine as you can, then sprinkle some salt on it. The salt is going to act as an abrasive and help to break down the garlic. Then take the side of your knife and smush the garlic, pushing down and pulling to the side or towards you. Keep at it and in a minute or two you’ll have some fresh garlic paste that will flavor the crap out of your meat.

Or you can just chop it, who cares? Trust me, the garlic is not your problem right now.

The problem and only difficulty of this meal is getting the bone out. You can roast it with the bone in, but it’ll take a lot longer. Some swear by keeping the bone in for flavor purposes, but it’s just as great with it out. Promise.

  • Since you have to debone the meat while keeping the entire cut in tact might require a teeny tiny bit of skill, I found this sweet step by step guide on how to debone a Picnic Shoulder. Enjoy, and good luck.

Now that you have a rather large, boneless piece of meat in front of you, it’s time to really get to work.

  • Take your knife and separate the fat from the meat. 

Whoa! Hold on, let me finish!!

  • Don’t cut it completely off, leave some of it connected, like a whole edge.

The reason why I do this is I like to make sure seasoning gets under the fat so when it’s roasting and the fat is distributing all it’s glorious flavor throughout the meat below, it’s also distributing the seasonings as well. Not to mention you’re giving more flavor to the heavenly crunchy Chicharrón, or pork rind as you may know it, that the fat turns into after roasting. Personally, if the fat is too thick I like to trim it down a bit. But that’s up to you.

  • Once the fat is separated, stab numerous holes throughout the meat everywhere you can. These are going to serve as pockets for the seasoning and help the rendered fat penetrate deep inside the meat.

Once you’re done stabbing holes, you can put the knife down and focus on the good stuff.

  • Take your salt, pepper and herbs if you’re using them and sprinkle everywhere. You want to make sure you’re able to cover the whole thing with the salt and pepper so if the measurements are not enough just add more. Then take your garlic and olive oil and rub it in like there is no tomorrow. I’m talking work your hands and fingers like you’re giving the pork a massage and you know it’s a good tipper. And most importantly, don’t forget to work everything into the holes you just created. Make sure you get every nook and cranny, under the fat too. I don’t mind spreading everything everywhere including the top of the fat, but fair warning, if you do so with herbs, they will burn and not look so great.

But who cares?! It’ll still be goooooooooood.

  • Once it’s seasoned properly, place it on the aluminum foil lined roasting pan and fold it under itself. Make it look the way it looked when it first came home with you and still had the bone. It doesn’t have to be wound tight, but you want it curled up like a little bundle of amazingness and not laid flat so it doesn’t dry out after all the time in the oven.

  • When it’s dressed in oil and garlic and seasonings like it’s going to the pork prom, and you have it nestled in a roasting pan, cover it with foil or wrap and stick it in the fridge to marinate overnight. You want it sitting in the flavors for at least 12 hours before it goes in the oven and emerges a butterfly.

Rise and shine, the next day is here and you are ready to feast.

Figure out when you want to have dinner because this is no 30 minute meal. If your cut is around the 7 pound mark, we’re talking at least 4 hours of cooking time. Add about 30-35 minutes more per pound if it’s bigger. So plan accordingly. You’ll still want to check the bigger cuts 

  • Take the meat out of the fridge, remove what was covering it and let it come to room temperature for about an hour. During this time, set the oven to 350°.
  • After an hour or so, put it in the oven uncovered, set the timer to 4 hours, and walk away. Just leave it alone, relax, read a book, play a game. Find something to do besides look through the window of the oven for 4 hours.
  • After 4 hours you may hear the sound of angels singing, but that’s really just the oven timer. Take it out and check it. You’re looking for the internal temp of 185°-ish, but trust me, if it’s around 7 pounds and your oven isn’t stupid, it’s done. You can also just stab a fork in the side of it and watch the meat effortlessly be pulled away from itself. If the Chicharrón is not crispy enough for you then turn the broiler on and let it crisp up for a few minutes. But watch it! It’ll crisp quick.

  • Take it out, and I know it’ll be hard, but let it rest for a good 10 minutes. It’s been through a lot and it’s very sensitive right now. After the longest 10 minutes of your life, remove the Chicharrón and cut up that crispy skin of perfection. Then just start slicing and carving and plating. Yes, use a plate, stop eating over the 7 poundsof roasted meat, Flintstone. 

What we always have with Pernil is arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), plátanos maduros (ripened fried sweet plantains), tostones (fried plantains), and fried yucca.

Oh my God, I’m hungry…

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