Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Holiday Pernil: Slow-Roasted Puerto Rican-Style Pork Shoulder by Cleo Coyle

Impressive to serve yet easy to make, this slow-roasted, crispy-skinned pork shoulder is a beloved treat in many Latin American homes, especially during the Christmas season. Like a stunning holiday turkey, a roasted pork shoulder will wow your dinner guests. (They’ll think you worked a lot harder than you did because there’s no basting, just pop it in the oven and turn it a few times.) 

Cleo Coyle has a partner in
crime-writing—her husband.
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Years ago, my husband and I shared a smaller version of this recipe. This is a bigger and better version, perfect for large gatherings...or more intimate ones (with plenty of tasty leftovers).

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Feliz Navidad! 

~ Cleo

Pork shoulder slow-roasted this way is amazing sliced right off the bone. The rich, crispy pork skin is truly a delicacy, and the succulent meat is wonderfully versatile.

Slapped on a fresh roll, it makes a delicious sandwich, including traditional Cubans. Or place the pork slices in a warmed flour or corn tortilla with guacamole and sour cream and you've got an outstanding taco... 

And now without further ado (or adobo!),
here is our version of the Puerto Rican clas


For a free downloadable PDF
of this recipe that you can print, save
or share, 


Cleo Coyle's Holiday Pernil

Slow-Roasted, Crispy-Skinned Pork Shoulder!

Makes about 10 servings


10 garlic cloves, peeled

5 tablespoons kosher salt

6 tablespoons oregano

2 tablespoons Goya brand Adobo seasoning

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons red, white, or cider vinegar (or red or white wine)

3 lemons or limes, juiced (or mix them to make a lemon-lime juice)

1 bone-in pork shoulder with skin (6 to 8 pounds)

NOTE - If an advertisement annoyingly covers some of these ingredients on your screen, I apologize. (It's not my ad, and I have nothing to do with its appearance or placement.) But I can give you a free, takeaway version of this recipe. Please click here for the recipe PDF, where you can see all ingredients clearly. Thank you! ~ Cleo


Step 1 - Create the rub: If you have a food processor, then take the first 9 ingredients on a quick spin to make a paste. No food processor? Then simply place the first 6 ingredients on a flat dish. Smash the peeled garlic cloves with the prongs of a fork, crushing the flavor into the dry ingredients. (A mortar and pestle is the traditional method.) When the mix resembles a fine mash, drizzle in your olive oil, vinegar (or wine), and lemon or lime juice. Blend the whole thing into a paste. Set aside.

Step 2 - Score the pork shoulder: After rinsing and drying off the pork shoulder, make six to eight 2-inch long slices around the white skin with a sharp knife. You should slice far enough to penetrate the skin and fat and allow the knife to cut shallowly into the meat under the skin. (See my photos below.)

Step 3 - Apply  the rub: Before you begin, place the pork on a long sheet of plastic wrap. Now massage the swoon-worthy fragrant rub ("adobo" in Spanish) all over the surface of the pork, making sure to work the paste into the cuts you made in the skin. Massage the meat well, rubbing the herbs into the flesh on all sides.

Step 4 - Wrap and chill: Draw up the ends of that plastic wrap, on which you set the pork, and use additional plastic wrap to bind the meat tightly (see my photo below). Place the pork in the refrigerator and allow it to marinate for at least 6 hours, although overnight is better! Pork shoulder is a dense meat, so the longer you marinate it, the better the flavors will penetrate. Again, 6 hour minimum for good results, overnight for the best results.

Step 5 - Prep for cooking: Before roasting, the pork shoulder must come to room temperature, so allow the wrapped meat to sit outside the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Unwrap the pork and discard the plastic wrap. DO NOT RINSE THE MEAT. Place it on a rack over a shallow pan, skin side up. Roast uncovered for about 45 to 50 minutes a pound, depending on your oven, so a 6 pound shoulder would need to slow roast for 4-1/2 to 5 hours, an 8 pound roast 6 to 7 hours, and so on.

Step 6 - Turn the Meat: Every hour during the cooking, flip the meat over. In other words, you will start roasting the pork shoulder with the skin side up. After an hour, flip the shoulder so the skin side is down for the second hour, and so on, every hour of cooking. You are turning it this way so the skin will cook evenly on all sides and the juices will be distributed properly. At the end of the cooking time, the meat should be at an internal temperature of 165 degrees. 

This is the pernil after the first hour of cooking
Flip the pernil once every hour for perfect
distribution of juices and browning of skin.

If the thermometer is under that temperature, then place the meat back in the oven for another 20 to 30 minutes and check again. By the end of the roasting process, the skin will be beautifully browned and delicious. (Yes, we eat the skin!) And may you eat with joy!

For a free downloadable PDF
of this recipe that you can print, save
or share, 

Click here for the free recipe PDF.

May your holidays 
be delicious!

Alice and Marc in Central Park.

Together we write as...

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~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries 

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  1. I am drooling! This sound utterly unctuous!

    A question. " If you have doubled the ingredients for a 6-8 pound pork shoulder, you must marinate at least 6 hours" "If" you double? Should we?

    1. Hi, Libby - "Drooling" is the ultimate compliment to a food photographer, I appreciate it! On your question...

      Marinate at least six hours--for a 6 to 8 pound pork shoulder--and overnight is even better! (Thanks for asking about that language, I edited the post to make that section clearer.)

      Cheers, Libby, I always, always appreciate seeing you in the Kitchen...and I'm sending you a quick, private note on facebook to answer your other questions, one of which was about the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries, which are indeed in the works. We're hard at work writing the next one now. More on the new "ghost" book soon. Until then, we hope you enjoy DEAD COLD BREW, coming from Penguin January 10!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. I'm swooning this looks so good! My in-laws used to roast a suckling pig for Christmas and the crispy skin was to die for. As for the Goya seasoning--with or without saffron? There are two kinds. I'm assuming you can also just slice this and serve like a roast for a main course?

    1. Peg - Marc and I are with you on the crispy pork skin. When it's cooked just right, hot and brown and crispy, it's almost too good for words (in our house, anyway, since we're rendered speechless as we stuff our faces).

      On the Goya seasoning question, we use the all-purpose Adobo seasoning with the red cap (no saffron).

      On your final question (cutting up the pernil), I added an animated Gif to the recipe post as well as a few photos that should show you how we slice up the pernil, just like any roast. The bone makes it tricky to slice, of course. But that inconvenient bone is also what makes the pork shoulder a wonderfully economical cut of meat (while also imparting flavor). It’s a great budget roast for a crowd…or to put on a weekly menu for sandwiches and tacos. And it's absolutely the traditional cut for the pernil and for Cuban sandwiches.

      Thanks for dropping by today, Peg, Marc and I wish you and your family the very best for the holidays and New Year!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Drooling. You had me at "10 cloves of garlic".

    1. Ha-ha! Yes, we too are garlic eaters (love the stuff), and it's terrific in the marinade, amazing fragrance. Cheers for stopping by today, Karen. Marc and I wish you and your loved ones the very best for the holiday season and new year!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. Beautiful post, Cleo, I'm going to try this for New Year's Eve. I am also looking forward to your new Coffeehouse Mystery. Keep up the great writing!

    1. Rachel - Thank you for the kind note. Marc and I wish you every good thing for the holidays. We hope you enjoy DEAD COLD BREW--and the pernil, too. May you eat with New Year's joy!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. Can't wait to try your recipe. I have a friend that maes this every New Year's for her family. Sadly, they moved away.

  6. I made the roast for Christmas dinner, Cleo. Today we wanted Cuban sandwiches but no Cuban bread was in sight north of Boston - so I baked some! Pix on my facebook page tonight. Thanks for the bunches of tasty meals - with that soup bone ready to boil down tomorrow, too.