For our family our ethnic food was always in the center of all family gathers. And Grandma was always the one cooking it. As a boy I used to love to come home to the smell of her cooking the Puerto Rican roasted pork shoulder called “Perníl”. The scent would instantly cause my mouth to water and fill me with such joy (that today we know as an endorphin rush!). At some point I decided to make it for myself based upon my recollection of her secret method recalled from years of watching her in the kitchen. Inevitably, I failed to recall correctly and embellished the recipe a bit (or so my older sister Pam likes to tell me 🤔). In any case, since Grandma passed away in 2001, I have been the maker of the secret family recipe at all family events.
But there’s a new generation coming up and they need to know how to make it “like Granny”. Recently, my nephew Jared made the perníl for Christmas. It was very delicious and tender, and we all loved it. There were just a few features of the original recipe that were missing and he asked me to get the recipe up on this blog.
Perníl is almost always served with Grandma’s Yellow Rice and Beans. The flavor will absolutely make you crazy and you will eat until your are beyond full. That’s just the way it is…deal with it. The funny thing is that this meal was considered “peasant food” because it was low cost and can feed a lot of people. So if you have to feed a lot of people for a party or holiday gathering, this meal will be a hit and everyone will leave full. The cut of pork used is called “Pork Shoulder Picnic”. I don’t know where they get the “picnic” from, but…whatever. It is really inexpensive. It has a lot of bone, fat, and sinewy parts. But don’t let that dissuade you. Once you cook it properly, it is so tender that the plentiful meat falls away from bone, fat and sinew effortlessly.
Without further delay, here is the recipe. Enjoy!
- Pork shoulder picnic (about 1 1/2lbs for every 2 people)
- head of garlic
- 1 green pepper diced
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 2 Tbsp oregano
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 8oz. Jar of Spanish olives stuffed with pimento (drained)
- Large roasting pan (disposable aluminum roasting pan will work supported on cookie sheet)
- (optional) Yukon gold potatoes peeled and quartered (approximately one large potato per person)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil (we’ll divide and use this in the recipe)
- Sauté green pepper and onion in about 2 Tbsp of oil until soft. Place in a mixing bowl and cool when done.
- In a mortar and pestle, mash a small head of garlic with salt until a soft paste. Add oregano and mash until evenly blended. Add vinegar and blend again.
- Add drained Spanish olives and garlic mixture to the bowl and mix well with green pepper and onion. We’ll call this “the mixture” from now on.
- Take the pork shoulder out of the wrapping and rinse briefly under cold water.
- With a sharp knife cut a cross pattern of lines through the layer of fat on the top of the meat. Cut just deep enough to get to the layer of soft meat below.
- With a sharp, thin knife make deep punctures large enough to fit a finger into the meat. On the top fat layer, place these punctures in the cracks between the fat you cut (you’ll have a tough time if you try to go through the fat layer). These will be used for stuffing the meat with the the mixture. Make as many of these punctures as you can spaced no closer than 2 inches apart.
- Place the meat with the fat side up into the roasting pan.
- Stuff each of the holes with the mixture. You’ll need to lift the meat over to get to the holes on the bottom. Just return the meat back to the fat side up position when done stuffing.
- Shake some coarse pepper across the top of the meat.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (longer is better).
Cooking the Meat
As I have learned to cook this dish over the years I have come to realize that “low and slow” is the best way to cook the meat in order for it to be tender. I have cooked the perníl too fast and not long enough and it has been tough. So the key here is this. Start with a high temperature (450℉) to sear the meat and then turn the temperature down to 325℉ and cook it for several hours until the internal meat temperature is about 185℉. You will need to measure this with a meat thermometer stuck in towards a deep bone in the roast. Don’t let the thermometer actually touch the bone though.
- Heat the oven to 450℉
- Place roasting pan with pork shoulder in oven at 450℉ for 15 minutes
- Turn oven down to 325℉ and cook approximately 30 minutes per pound.
- Cook until internal meat temperature is 185℉. Check with meat thermometer.
- When done, remove roast from the oven and let sit in the pan covered with aluminum foil for at least 30 minutes.
- Slice and serve. The meat should pull off the bone in larger chunks. You can then take each of these chunks and slice to serve in a the roasting pan with all the juices from the meat.
Cooking the Yukon Potatoes (Optional)
I almost always include the potatoes when I make this recipe. What you do is place the potatoes in the roasting pan with the meat when it has an 90 minutes or so left to cook. Periodically in that time you stir the potatoes around to pick up the juices and to get crispy on all sides. The flavor is unbelievable! You don’t want to miss out on this.
- In a large mixing bowl, place the cut and peeled potatoes with the remaining oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss until potatoes are evenly coated with oil.
- With approximately 90 minutes of cooking time left on the roast (internal temp around 145-155℉) add the potatoes to the roasting pan distributing evenly and with space around each potato so they are not touching. If you need more space, place the remaining potatoes in a separate baking dish.
- Check the potatoes after 30 minutes of cooking and stir around to get meat juices to coat the potatoes and to expose all sides of potatoes to the bottom of pan over the duration of cooking time.
- Cook until potatoes are browned and crispy on the edges. Remove from roasting pan if they are done before the meat. Serve in serving dish.