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Aug 23, 2016
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WINE WITH…Pernil (Puerto Rican Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder)

It’s hard to imagine any omnivore, or carnivore, who wouldn’t love this version of slow cooked pork roast. It’s a cinch to prepare since you marinate it the night before, and the next day simply pop it into the oven and let it roast until it’s ready to serve. The roast can, of course, be grilled, but some cooks believe that oven roasting yields a crispier skin.

Many of the recipes we’ve looked at recommend scoring the fat layer on top of the roast in a crosshatch pattern and rubbing the marinade onto that surface, but we’ve found that that method essentially flavors only the top surface of the meat no matter how long you let it marinate. In our experience, the best way to really saturate the meat with those delicious flavors is to perforate the roast all over to allow the marinade to gradually seep down into it. You could use a sharp knife to make slits in the meat, but we prefer an ordinary screwdriver, which is easier to manipulate (and probably safer), and makes wider openings for the zesty seasonings to permeate the pork.

When the pork is done it’s so tender that there’s no point in trying to cut it into tidy slices, so tear it into chunks instead. Pernil is often served on top of rice, but we particularly like it spooned into soft tacos. But remember, this dish is all about the meat, so instead of loading your tacos up American-style with cheese, salsa, lettuce and so on, restrict the toppings to a few sliced radishes, a sprinkling of diced onion, and maybe a little bit of avocado. And okay, a dab of sour cream probably won’t gild the lily too much.


Serves 6-8

1 boneless pork shoulder, 4-6 pounds
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried
4 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon ground ancho chili powder, or other chili powder
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup olive oil
Tortillas (optional)


Diced white onion
1 cup sliced radishes
Lime wedges
1 avocado, sliced (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

Using a screwdriver, make multiple deep punctures through the fat layer and down into the meat. Turn the meat over and make more punctures in the bottom and sides as well.

Place the remaining ingredients except the tortillas in a blender or food processor and pulse until everything is well pulverized. Rub this mixture all over the pork, making sure it penetrates into all the incisions. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight.

To cook the roast, pre-heat the oven to 300°. Add about ¼ cup water to the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the meat in the pan, fat-side up, and cook for 3-4 hours, or until it is fork tender and the layer of fat on top is dark and crisp.

* * *

Red wines outperformed whites in our tasting--with one delicious exception, a vivacious, slightly sweet sparkler. All the other whites we tried, though, were washed out by the meat, especially the crispy pork skin. With reds, the best were those that offered plenty of primary fruit flavors. Secondary non-fruit notes tended to get lost in the pairing. As a result, except for the sparkler, our favorite wines with Pernil turned out all to be Californian. This is one dish that calls for rich, ripe sun-drenched fruit, a profile that Californian vintners excel at providing.

Questions or comments? Contact us at Talkofthevine@gmail.com


Approx. Price


Bisol, Valdobbiadene (Italy)

Prosecco Superiore “Crede”


(Imported by Vias Imports)


A touch sweet, with ripe fruit flavors, this wine did not taste all that special on its own but shined brightly as a foil for the pork. It enlivened the dish and, to our considerable surprise, made for a fantastic match.


Sonoma County

(California) Merlot



The soft tannins in this Merlot are what gave it appeal when paired with the melt in your mouth pork dish. It was a successful match as much because of texture as flavor.

Dry Creek Vineyard

Sonoma County



“Heritage Vines”



Fruity and brambly, with a rustic edge, this berry-rich wine gave the Pernil added depth of flavor. It made for a match notable for similarities, as each element complimented the other.

J. Lohr

Paso Robles


Petite Sirah

“Tower Road”



We worried that this wine might be too big and powerful for a pork dish, but slow-roasting gives Pernil such deep, satisfying flavors that it was not at all intimidated. Instead, the dish matched the wine in every respect—forceful flavors, heady aromas, rich texture, and both depth and length on the palate. Yum!

Robert Mondavi

Napa Valley


Cabernet Sauvignon



A sumptuous Napa Cabernet, this wine, much like the Petite Sirah, tasted rich and ripe, and gave added depth to the dish. The fruit flavors in the two wines are very different—this one sweeter, the other more brooding—but the effect proved much the same.