Pernil may be a fixture on most Puerto Rican holiday menus, but chances are the slow roasted pork shoulder served by abuelita isn’t anything like the masterpiece whipped up by Chef Ricardo Cardona. The New York City-based chef says that he’ll be making the juicy, tender roast pork for every single one of the holiday parties he’ll be catering this year, and if the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Marc Anthony love his version, it’s likely you will too.
And his secret? It turns out that Cardona’s method for making the perfect pernil is a blend of pan-Latin flavors and techniques. He marinates the pork in a spice blend packed with classic Caribbean flavors like Cuban orange mojo and Puerto Rican sofrito, and roasts the meat in low heat under a fresh banana leaf –much like Mexican cochinita pibil – to help retain the pork’s moisture.
“My food is an expression of the love I have for Latin food,” says Cardona, who arrived in New York from his native El Salvador at 15 years old. “Nothing is off limits when it comes to combining different elements across Latin cuisine.”
Cardona – whose first job in the kitchen was as a dishwasher – was the chef at Josephina’s in New York City by 25, but it wasn’t until he began embracing the variety of influences across all of Latin cuisine that he felt he found his calling.
“I grew up among Dominicans and Puerto Ricans as a young kid and grew to love their traditions and favorite foods almost more than the cuisine of my home country,” says Cardona, who currently serves as the head chef for the New York Yankees and visiting teams. “Caribbean flavors are a natural part of my history and once I crossed over from French and Italian foods to embrace that, I became successful in what I did.”
Here’s his recipe to his famous pernil, which he likes to serve alongside Caribbean favorites like arroz con gandules and maduros.
3-4 pound pork shoulder
1/2 cup of crushed garlic
1/2 cup of sour orange juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup of lemon juice
1 cup of white vinegar
1/2 cup of oregano
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of Goya Adobo
1 teaspoon Goya Sazon
1 cup of sofrito (recipe below)
1/2 cup of paprika
2 large sheets of fresh banana leaf
1 cup of small chilis (ajisitos)
1/2 cup of cilantro
1/2 cup of cilantro
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1/2 cup of stuffed green olives
1 white onion
2 roasted red red peppers
1 cup of garlic cloves
Add all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until combined into a paste.
1. Place the pork, fat-side up, in a roasting pan fitted with a rack insert, and using a sharp knife, score the surface of the meat with small slits. Place the following ingredients in a large non reactive bowl: garlic, sour orange, orange juice, lemon juice, white vinegar, oregano, bay leaves, Goya Adobo, Goya Sazon, sofrito, paprika. Rub the garlic paste all over the pork, being sure to get into the incisions so the seasoning can penetrate the meat and pull out the moisture – this will help form a crust on the outside when cooked. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
2. Allow the meat to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Then season the pork with salt and pepper, cover the pork in a fresh banana leaf and finally cover the fresh banana leaf in aluminum foil.
3. Roast the pork for 3 hours, uncovered, until the skin is crispy-brown. Let the meat rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before slicing.