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Shared by Annalisa Esposito Bluhm (Michigan, United States)
In the late 1950s, my family left Calabria, Italy for São Paulo, Brazil in search of better opportunities. There, the Martino and Esposito families built a thriving butcher shop. My father’s uncle, Tio Domenico, grew close to my dad. An incredible cook, Tio Domenico made many of my father’s favorite Italian and Brazilian dishes. In the mid-1970s, my Dad left behind much of his extended family in Brazil for the United States – including Tio.
While happy in the United States, he never lost his taste for Tio Domenico’s amazing meals. In the early 1990s, Tio Domenico visited the United States. It had been nearly a decade since we last visited Brazil and we were thrilled for his visit. During this time, however, our family was recovering as my dad had recently suffered a massive heart attack/triple by-pass. Our “new normal” was scary, daunting and unfamiliar. My dad requested Tio make his favorite dish: Pernil. Standing on one side of Tio, I committed his hand motions to memory. He spoke a little English and I spoke less Portuguese, but somehow we all talked for hours as the pork roasted.
Nothing smells better than roasting Pernil. It slowly cooks for hours, filling your home with the promise of rendered fat, tender pork and savory sauce.
That evening, we all eagerly enjoyed the succulent pork in Portuguese rolls fresh from the oven. Paired with a crisp green salad and vinaigrette, it was stunningly perfect. We lingered at the dinner table for hours. Laughter filled the kitchen. It was so good to feel normal again.
I loved that meal.
That meal helped convince us everything was going to be fine… just as it did nearly 20 years later as we prepared Pernil on the first day of COVID Shelter In Place.
I hope it brings you comfort, peace and laughter. Enjoy!
Pernil-Style Slow-Roasted Pork
- 4-5 lb. boneless pork shoulder (can also be made with beef or lamb)
- 1-2 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp. peppercorns (whole)
- 1-1.5 bottles white wine (red if using beef or lamb)
- 5 cloves garlic (peeled, whole)
- red chili flakes (optional, as desired)
- 10-12 cloves (peeled, whole)
- 2 Tbsp. oregano (dried)
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp. black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest (optional)
- 1 tsp. cider vinegar or lemon juice
- 28 oz. San Marzano tomatoes (canned, peeled)
- 4-5 cubanelle peppers (or other thin-skinned, mild peppers)
- 1 large white onion (cut into quarters)
Brining the pork (10-12 hours in advance of roasting)
- Pat pork shoulder dry. Rub kosher salt on all sides.
- Place in large bowl or non-metallic container. Add bay leaves, peppercorns and five cloves of garlic.
- Pour one bottle of white wine over meat until totally submerged (can use red if using beef or lamb).
- Cover bowl and let meat marinade in the brine for 10-12 hours or overnight.
Roasting the pork and vegetables
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take pork out of brine and pat dry. Take a knife and score any fat on top. Then, stab the pork in five places, about 1 inch deep. Insert one whole clove into each cut.
- In a food processor, pulse 5-6 cloves of garlic, oregano, cumin, kosher salt, ground pepper and lemon zest (if using). Add enough olive oil, along with cider vinegar and/lemon juice (if using) to make a thick paste.
- Rub the paste all over the pork. Place the pork in a roasting pan and roast until a meat thermometer registers an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (about 3 hours).
- Take the pork out of the oven and let it rest on a plate for about 20 minutes. Turn up the oven to 345 degrees Fahrenheit.
- While pork is resting, deglaze the roasting pan with 1 cup of wine, the canned tomatoes, cubanelle peppers and onion. Mix it together in the pan and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.
- Slice the pork into thin slices, against the grain. Remove pan from the oven, add the pork back in, making sure the sauce covers the pork.
- Cook for about an hour, checking periodically to make sure the meat does not dry out.
- Serve in Portuguese rolls or over rice.