To be on the Island of Enchantment
That photo up above is enough to drive anyone stuck in Jack Frost’s grasp into lunacy. Puerto Rico has been known as the Island of Enchantment with warm weather all year around and a distinctive cuisine that sets it apart from Mexico and other islands in the region. A mix of Spain, Africa, the Caribbean, and even the US builds for some beautiful flavors and interesting dishes.
My first leap into Puerto Rican cuisine will be in the form of a very traditional dish most known around holidays and celebrations. When my best friend Michael and his wife Yolanda held a coed shower months ago, I provided a Hawaiian Chicken that won hearts and minds, but another guest brought some very delicious shredded pork that blew our taste buds away.
Until that day, I had never been a fan of shredded pork. My only experiences with shredded pork has been in barbecue establishments, which seemed more like a scoop of pork soaked in barbecue sauce. Messy and not very tasty in my opinion. The Puerto Rican pork on the other hand was juicy, flavorful, and had a nice bite to it.
After begging for what ended up to be most of the recipe, and looking around online, I was slightly disappointed to find that this is a dish where you need some fat in it for the flavor. Unless you’re roasting a whole pig, most Puerto Rican pork now is made with pork shoulder. Rubbed with spices and slow-cooked for hours, the fat is part of the flavor if you want the “real McCoy” pork. Regardless, I wanted to attempt to cut some of the fat out.
For both attempts, I used a lean pork tenderloin roast. Beautiful piece of meat since it only has a nice thin layer of fat on the top and a thick slab of pork. Perfect for the health conscious. I used the recipe my friend gave me and cooked the roast in a similar fashion to how I did a brisket. The end result was the meat was tender and juicy, but the marinate rub only flavored the outside. Thus I ended up with plain tasting pork covered with a very salty and spicy layer on the outside.
After doing a little troubleshooting, I took on some tactics that my father taught me with roast lamb. I also changed up the ingredients to how I would do it. Let me show you.
Roasted Puerto Rican Pork
- 3-4 lbs of pork tenderloin roast or pork shoulder
- 6-8 cloves of garlic
- 3-4 tbsp of olive oil
- 1/2 tsp of black pepper
- 1/2 tsp of red pepper
- 1 tsp of oregano
- 2-3 tbsp of Adobo seasoning blend
- 2 tbsp of white vinegar
- 2 cups of white wine
- Rinse off the pork under the faucet (cold water) and pat dry.
- In a food processor (or using a mortar and pestle), add in 2-3 cloves of the garlic and mash into a pulp.
- Add in the olive oil, black pepper, red pepper, oregano, Adobo, and vinegar. Mash or blend into a paste.
- Take a steak knife and stab your pork about 10-15 times all around on all sides. Make each slit roughly 1-2 inches deep.
- Slice up the remaining garlic into smaller pieces. Generally about 3-4 pieces out of a large clove.
- In each slit, add small amount of the paste you made. Shove one of the garlic pieces into the slit after.
- When all the slits have paste and garlic inside, rub the rest of the paste all over the pork.
- Place the pork into a food storage bag or container you can seal, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Overnight is better.
- Pull the pork out and allow it to sit for an hour before cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Place the pork into a roasting pan you can cover. Leave the fat side up. Pour out any marinate left in the bag/container onto the pork.
- Add the two cups of white wine to the bottom of the pan and place the pork into the oven covered.
- Cook the pork roughly 1 1/2 to 2 hours covered, then uncover and cook for another hour (or until done), basting it regularly with the liquid in the pan.
- Check your meat with a meat thermometer. When it’s done, pull it out and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes.
- Slice and serve.
The amounts of everything here are subjective. You might end up getting a bigger piece of pork, so be sure to multiply the amounts accordingly. The same goes for cooking times. You want to cook the pork 30 minutes for every pound. So an 8 pound pork shoulder should be done two hours covered, then two hours uncovered. Be sure to check the interior temperature regularly after you pass that two hour mark and uncover it. The goal after uncovering is to “crisp up” the outside, so check and make sure you don’t overcook the pork. If it’s a smaller piece, then you might want to drain out some of the liquid and turn the heat up to 450° just to do a quick crisping.
When adding paste to the slits, you only need a tiny amount. The best tip I found is to use the handle of a tablespoon. Just roughly 1/8 of a teaspoon is enough. If you run out of paste before you get to rub the outside, make some more.
Leaving the pork fat side up when cooking is the same technique I mentioned in cooking Texas-style Brisket. The fat will gelatinize in the oven and soak into the meat, making it juicy.
If you notice all the wine is evaporating from the pan, add more or add some water.
The rice, beans, and peppers shown in the photo was made simply for decoration.
One of my sources for learning a better way to make this pork was elagasse.com. He also uses a mixture of seasonings called sofrito in his pork. If you would like to try this, check out his recipe.
You don’t have to use shoulder or a roast. I also managed to pull this off with pork chops. Only difference is you don’t have to stab and stuff with marinate and garlic.