Latin ingredient of the week: Pork shoulder (RECIPE)

I'm sure there are a lot of things that you can make with one of my favorite Latin ingredients, the pork shoulder, but whenever I hear about this very special part of the pig the only thing I can think about is traditional Puerto Rican pernil.

Be honest: Is there anything better than this classic dish? It's been adopted by many other Caribbean cultures, including my own Cuban upbringing. This is the perfect dish to have for Christmas dinner and, well, we definitely often do. It's also just perfect as Sunday night dinner. My favorite thing about this recipe is that, although it takes a while to actually cook the meat, it's pretty simple in terms of ingredients. You only need a little extra touch of seasoning to really make the pork shoulder shine and--voila!--you have the world's best Latin pork dish.

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Pernil Al Horno, a.k.a. Puerto Rican Roasted Pork Shoulder (recipe courtesy of ElBoriqua.com)

Ingredients:
7 lb. 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.)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

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Directions:
1. Crush the garlic in a pilón. If you don't have a pilón, 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.

2. Wash the meat and pat dry.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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

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

7. 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 inches deep. The fat side up will make nice crunchy "cueritos." Do NOT cover with foil.

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

9. Remove the meat from the oven and let it rest on the counter for about 20 to 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 200ºF 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 on each place. Enjoy!

Image via Garfada/flickr

Topics: cooking pork  traditional latin recipes  puerto rican food  latin ingredient of the week