Puerto Ricans love their meat, it’s a fact! How can you not like meat when it takes the form of a pernil asado?
What is pernil asado?
Pernil asado is a whole leg or shoulder of pork with skin and bones, that is marinated for a long time and slowly cooked in the oven.
The meat is impregnated with the well-seasoned flavors of the marinade and then the cooking melts the fat which gives an incredibly aroma to the meat while it gets tender after 5 hours of cooking. The skin is both crisp and elastic and the meat is incredibly juicy and tender. It just falls off the bone!
How to make pernil asado
Do not be scared at the thought of this time-consuming recipe, it is actually very simple. It does not require a lot of time in front of the stove, only time to marinate and cook.
The longest step is to make the marinade and then apply it to the meat.
In addition, the risk of over-cooking is low as long as the meat is cooked at low temperature and in the meat juice.
It is better to start the recipe the day before your meal to allow ample time to marinate and cook. In short, it will be a festive meal that impresses your friends and family, without the stress or difficulties.
Christmas in Puerto Rico
Pernil asado is indeed the centerpiece of the Christmas Eve or Nochebuena meal, typically accompanied by arroz con gandules, rice and pigeon peas, and pasteles, plantain purée with meat and wrapped in green banana leaves.
It is part of the tradition to start cooking the pernil early in the morning by playing or listening to Puerto Rican (or aguinaldos) Christmas carols. Coquito, the Puerto Rican version of eggnog is also a big part of the celebration.
Throughout Latin America, pernil asado is a classic for New Year’s Eve. Its popularity makes it not only a staple of Christmas dinners but also for celebrations such as weddings or birthdays.
What is the origin of pernil asado?
Pernil derives from the Spanish word pierna which means leg. Originally, pernil asado was cooked with the pork leg, the noble piece of the pig par excellence, soft, tasty and lean. Ham has long been reserved for royal tables and special occasions.
The shoulder is therefore less popular, it is easier to find and less expensive. It is however very tasty because it is a fat part and the slow roasting allows this fat to melt while spreading in the meat.
Adobo is a technique that originated from the Iberian Peninsula, and is widespread in Latin America. Basically, it was a method of preserving meat but nowadays the idea is to season food before cooking.
Today, the term adobo refers to the marinade, the mixture used to coat the meat. Marinades are very different from one Latin American country to another.
In Puerto Rico, there are 2 types of adobo: the adobo mojado or wet marinade, as opposed to the adobo seco. The first is made with pressed garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, oregano and lemon juice or vinegar or a combination of both. It is this marinade that is used for the pernil.
The adobo seco can be kept longer because it is a mixture of garlic powder and onion, salt, pepper and dried oregano.
This recipe combines 3 techniques for 3 purposes: the adobo that contains a good dose of garlic brings the flavor; the asado al horno or oven roasting allows the skin to color and become crisp while the low temperature cooking ensures the melting and juicy texture of the meat.
If you have any leftovers, the juicy meat will make an excellent sandwich. But you may not have any leftovers!
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns , crushed
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 4 cloves garlic , pressed
- 2 limes , squeezed
- ½ cup olive oil
- 8 lb pork leg or shoulder (whole, with bone)
- 2 tablespoons marinade
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 7 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Mix all the ingredients and reserve this preparation to season the meat.
- Place the pork in a baking dish that can be refrigerated.
Mix the garlic powder with the salt and season the pork. Add the fresh garlic on top of the meat. Marinate for 3 hours in the refrigerator.
- Using a small, sharp knife, remove the fat from the meat by letting it stand on one edge and keeping it in one piece.
- Start at the wide end and go to the narrow end.
- Leave enough fat on the meat to turn the fat on its side while seasoning the meat.
- The fat will be added back on the seasoned meat and cooked on the meat.
- With a little marinade, season the side of the fat that covers the meat. The other side (the top) should only have salt.
- Make very deep cuts on all over the meat and season with the marinade, ensuring that the seasoning penetrates well into all the cuts.
- Put the fat on the meat so that it looks the same as before cutting and sprinkle with salt.
- Cover the meat with a cling film and refrigerate for 12 hours.
- Remove the meat 1h30 before cooking and let the meat come back to room temperature before cooking.
- Place the meat in a deep oven dish with the fat side up. There will be a lot of fat, so be sure to use a deep dish.
Preheat the oven for 45 minutes at 400 F / 200 C before baking (while the meat comes back to room temperature).
Bake at 400 F / 200 C, and covered for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature to 300 F / 150 C, and cook again covered for 3 hours. Do not turn the meat over. Then uncover and cook for an additional hour.
When the meat is cooked, poke it on the side with a fork to see if it is falls off from the bone. If the top (cuerito) is not crisp enough, continue cooking at 400 F / 200 C for 15 minutes or until crisp.
- Remove the meat from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes before cutting it.
- To cut it, completely remove the fat (cuerito) and reserve it.
- Slice the meat then cut the fat (cuerito) into pieces and sprinkle on the meat.
- Serve the meat with a piece of cuerito.