Saturday, January 26, 2008


There's been quite a lot of excited talk about pernil around here lately. We had the best pernil I've ever eaten at Bill's family's Christmas dinner -- and that's saying a whole lot, after a lifetime of chasing after tender, juicy, crisp-skinned pernil like the holy grail all over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Miami, Spanish Harlem and the Bronx. This holiday roast is one of the most revered comfort foods in my pork-centric world, and Cindy's version at the Toles family xmas was absolutely perfect. Next year I'd like to film her pernil production, and start a little DVD family cookbook for the kids to inherit: Cindy's pernil, Tempi's cobbler, my empanadas and matzoh ball soup, Sharon's seafood stew, spoonbread...the possibilities are endless.
But back to pernil for a minute, before I get lost in dreaming up a new project to distract me from finishing my PhD...this recipe, for a smaller, easier to manage neo-pernil, was printed in Saveur with photos by Andre Baranowski. Maybe for the superbowl...

2 tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
2 tbsp. dried oregano
1⁄4 tsp. cayenne
12 cloves garlic
Kosher salt, to taste
1 bone-in skin-on pork picnic shoulder (about
8 lbs.)
1 cup fresh orange juice
1⁄2 cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. olive oil

1. Toast cumin and peppercorns in a skillet over medium heat, 2–3 minutes. Transfer to a small food processor along with oregano, cayenne, garlic, and 1 tbsp. salt; process to a paste. Cut about twenty-five 1 1⁄2"-wide slits in the pork about 1" deep. Rub garlic paste all over pork, pressing it into slits. Transfer pork to a roasting pan. Whisk together orange juice, lime juice, oil, and 2 tbsp. salt in a bowl; pour over pork. Cover and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for 18–24 hours.

2. Remove pork from refrigerator 2 hours before you are ready to roast, to allow it to come to room temperature. Heat oven to 325°. Roast, basting every 30 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of pork registers 160°, about 3 hours total. (Add 1 cup water to pan when liquid evaporates; cover loosely with foil if skin gets too dark.) Let rest for 15 minutes, then carve (see Carving Pork Shoulder) and serve.

1. Using a carving knife and fork, slice down to the bone near the shank end of the pork shoulder. Make a second, diagonal downward cut to produce a wedge. Set wedge aside on the carving platter.
2. While holding the pork shoulder firmly with the carving fork, repeat the diagonal downward cut (using wide, sweeping strokes) to create thick slices, leaving them attached at the bottom.

3. Continue slicing away from the shank end until you can cut no farther. Make a horizontal cut underneath the slices to separate them from the rest of the shoulder.

4. Working around the remainder of the pork shoulder, cut off slices where possible. Using the knife and carving fork, transfer the slices to a serving platter and arrange. Serves 8

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