Pernil Al Horno

How can you cook the best pernil ever?

The number one rule is to do it the old fashioned way and don't change a thing.

It's the traditional holiday meat and it's EASY as 1 - 2 - 3
If need to take a dish to a gathering take this. It costs a little more but it so simple to make and it is so dramatic! Everyone will say you are a great cook.

Buy a pork 'shoulder picnic cut.' It looks like the picture below. Notice it has a nice layer of fat or cuero on top. If you don't find this particular piece then buy any large chunck of pork. This is the prefered cut because it has the fat on top to make cueritos.

All it needs is lots of garlic (powder is ok), black papper, oregano, and salt. Sprinkle the meat and bake. How easy is that?

Note: Season the meat one day ahead and refrigerate (if you are short on time just season and cook).

7 lbs. pork shoulder - picnic cut (with fat)
9 garlic cloves (You may use powder garlic or ground garlic sold in glass jars - 1 tsp. equals one clove.)
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon crushed oregano
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1½ teaspoon salt

Crush the garlic in a pilón. If you don't have a pilón (shame on you!) crush the whole garlic with the side of a wide knife then dice the pieces. In a small bowl mix together the garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and olive oil. Mix well.

Wash the meat and pat dry.

With a sharp knife cut the fat away from the meat, leaving an edge attached and keeping it all in one piece. Start at the wide end and go to the narrow end. You don't have to separate it completely - just leave enough still conected so that you can flip the fat over to the side while you season the meat itself. The fat will be placed over the seasoned meat and will cook over the meat giving it more flavor. Season the side of the fat that goes over the meat with a bit of the seasoning also - just that one side by running your hand on it. The other side - the top - should only have salt.

Make very deep slits all over the meat and season the meat making sure that seasoning goes into all the slits. Put the fat back over the meat to look the same as before it was cut and sprinkle it with salt.

Refrigerate the shoulder, covered with plastic wrap, for 24 hours (if you are short on time bake at this time)

Let the meat get back into room temperature before cooking, if it was refrigerated. (About one hour).

Place the meat in a deep pan with the fat side up. There will be a lot of grease so be sure to use a deep pan that is at least 2" deep. The fat side up will make nice crunchy "cueritos." Do NOT cover with foil.

Preheat the over for at least 30 minutes before placing the meat inside. Cook in a 400º oven for one hour, then reduce temperature to 300º for about 4 hours or so - DO NOT TURN MEAT. When the meat is done, you can prick it on the side witha fork to see if it shreds. If the "cuerito is not crispy enough for your satisfaction, then leave it in the oven and raise the temperature again to 400º and cook another 15 or so until it is crispy. It will crisp fast so keep your eye on it.

Remove the meat from the oven and let it rest on the counter for about 20-30 minutes before carving.
To carve, remove the cuerito completely and set aside. Carve the meat and then cut the cuerito into pieces and place over the meat. If you're going to take this to a party put it in an oven-safe container and put it back in a 200º to keep it warm, DON'T COVER IT because the crispy cueritos will get soft if you do. Cut the cuerito and serve meat with a piece of cuerito on each place. Enjoy!

Tips . . .

If using a meat thermometer, it will be ready when it reaches 185ºF.

If the picnic cut is not available just buy a pork shoulder - it won't have the fat and you won't get any cueritos - but it will be delicious.

On-line question . . . question from a reader. I'm making pernil al horno but I have a 20.something lb pork shoulder-picnic cut. Do I double the seasoning and does the cooking time change if so what is the cooking time and temps?

Yes, double the ingredients for sure. The cooking time is more or less the same.
When I am cooking I start the pernil at least 7 hours early ( I always cook big perniles).
Cook at 400 degrees for one hour. Lower to 300 for 6 hours or so. Check it after 5 hours by pulling with a fork from the side of the meat. See if it tears easy, if it does then it's done. If you think it's ready then just lower the temperature to 200 degrees so it stays warm until you are ready to serve. NEVER cover the pernil with foil or you won't have cueritos.

Grill instructions

In the summer we cook our pernil outside on the grill. We do this to prevent the house from heating up. Follow all the instructions above. Put your pernil in a deep pan. But do cover with foil to prevent burning the meat - this means no cueritos. Put the pan on the grill. Cook a bit longer than if using the oven. Cook on high for the first half hour and then on low heat. Keep your eye on it.

Should you have any leftover meat you can make a stir fry with left over rice and the meat. Or - make pernil tacos. Yum!

Dice up the leftover meat.
Add a bit of oil to a large frying pan and heat the meat, add sliced onion. Once the onions are soft, add left over rice. Cook until the rice is hot.