When I moved to Columbus from Vineland, New Jersey over ten years ago, I moved away from much of the culture and the heritage I grew up with. Vineland, a small town smack dab in the middle of South Jersey, has very large Puerto Rican and Italian populations, so much of the food you could get there was – yup, you guessed it – Puerto Rican or Italian. Authentico. Which means that this New Jersey transplant is very disappointed when it comes to Columbus’ (non-existant) Puerto Rican cuisine. And the only place I’ve been able to find authentic (at least the sort of authentic I grew up with) Italian food in town is at Carfagna’s – and that’s not even a restaurant. I do admit, The Florentine comes somewhat close, but something is still missing from their food that the stuff from Carfagna’s has in spades – the comfort factor. Carfagna’s meat ravioli and meatballs and to die for marinara taste like they could have come from your Nonna’s kitchen – you can almost hear the “manga, manga – you’re too skinny” as you’re trying to push yourself away from the table after your second serving. And no, I’m neither Italian or Puerto Rican – but the great thing about Italian and Puerto Rican mothers is that they pretty much adopt anyone who spends any amount of time at their house as one of their own. Luckily, most of my friends were Italian or Puerto Rican growing up, so I learned to cook from the best. But I digress.
I miss Puerto Rican food. I miss going to the Margarita Penalvert Food Deli on the Boulevard in Vineland and getting enough food for $5 to last me two or three meals (a small rice and beans, for example, fills your average sized white styrofoam take out container to overflowing). A large? More than enough for a large family. They’ve got the best roast pork and rice and beans in town. This dish is dedicated to them. The best of the best, nothing ever comes close, you’ve got to eat it to believe it comfort food dish of all time. This is the dish you can make for a potluck and have everyone in the office ask you for a recipe.
First things first. To make pernil (roast pork), it’s important to have the right cut of meat. Traditionally, it’s made with a pork shoulder (preferably with skin on) or picnic roast, but can be also be made with a pork blade roast. Whatever you use, be sure that it’s a fatty cut, as that (combined with the paste below) is where most of your flavor is coming from. Pork loin won’t cut it for this dish. A 3-5 lb. roast should do quite nicely. If you pick a cut that isn’t pork shoulder with skin, make sure the meat has a nice fat layer on it, which you want to leave untrimmed. This definitely isn’t diet food.
The most important component of the dish (other than the meat) is the paste – this is where your flavor and seasoning is coming from. This is what makes the dish so memorable. You’ll need at least four packets of Sazon (with Annato), a container of Goya Adobo seasoning (both can be found locally at either Giant Eagle or one of the many Latino markets in town), and a bottle of olive oil. Empty the packets into a bowl, add an equal amount of Adobo, and enough olive oil to form a paste. At this point, keep adding Adobo and olive oil to maintain the paste consistency (you want it to be able to be spread easily, but don’t want it to be extremely watery) until you have about the amount of paste shown in the picture below.
You can make more if you like your meat highly seasoned, but this is the minimum amount you want to be making. I’ve left the fork in the picture for scale.
Place the pork roast in a bowl slightly larger than the roast. With a sharp knife, pierce the roast deeply on all sides, twisting the knife once it’s inserted. Use your fingers to widen the holes. Scoop up the adobo-oil paste and stuff it into the holes until all holes are thoroughly filled with the paste. Rub any remaining paste all over the outside of the roast.
Return the roast to the bowl, and fill the bowl 2/3 full of white distilled vinegar. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight, turning the roast over after 4 hours. Here is a picture of what it will look like after marinating all night.
Remove the roast from the bowl and discard the vinegar. Place the roast in a 5-6 quart dutch oven or similar oven-safe pot, cover tightly, and let cook in 275 degree oven for 6-8 hours or until the meat is fall-apart tender and a good amount of liquid is in the pot with the roast.
This liquid is very much like a highly seasoned au jus that you can use to season the meat and/or red beans and rice by drizzling some on top.
With this dish, you’ll want to serve a side of Rice and Beans. Typically, this is served with Arroz con Gandules, but we prefer Red Beans and Rice, because it complements the dish so well.
Red Beans and Rice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 packets Goya chicken bouillon
4 packets Sazon with Annato
3/4 cup Goya (or comparable brand) Sofrito
3/4 cup Goya (or comparable brand) Recaito
2 cups dry medium grain rice
1 15oz. can small red beans, drained
2 cups water
Combine oil, bouillon, Sazon, sofrito, recaito, and rice in nonstick saucepan over medium heat until mixture is thoroughly combined with rice and rice has taken on a deep red color.
Add two cups water. Add drained can of red beans and stir well. Cover and cook on stovetop at medium heat until almost all liquid has been absorbed. Turn the rice and beans from top to bottom, reduce heat to the lowest setting possible, cover and cook 10 minutes. Turn the rice and beans from top to bottom again then cover and cook an additional 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve. The adobo pork’s au jus makes an excellent seasoning for this side dish.
The pork freezes well, so if you have a small family, don’t let the fact that it’s a roast put you off from making it. It really is easier than it sounds, and your taste buds will thank you.