“Cultural Appropriation” has unfortunately appeared in my sights as something else the politically correct class is whining and whinging about. Some recent examples:
Apparently if you are a white chef, you are not allowed in a Bon Appétit video to pronounce on your own preferences regarding the making of Vietnamese pho.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was forced to discontinue their “Kimono Wednesdays” where people were allowed to try on to try on a replica of the kimono in the painting La Japonaise by Claude Monet. Museum officials thought it would be interesting for patrons to feel the weight and see the construction of the garment. Apparently if you are not Japanese, however, this is imperialistic aggression.
I am not a fan of Kylie Jenner, but I do think it is ridiculous that she is not allowed to wear a du-rag because she is the wrong color. Let’s not even stop to think that there are only so many ways to tie a piece of cloth around one’s head. I do it when I’m out in the garden or having a bad hair day. Who knew it was inappropriate.
Lionel Shriver gave a talk about the ridiculousness of these kinds of complaints at a writer’s conference in Australia. People walked out. She didn’t immediately grovel and back down and apologize like Bon Appéti and the Boston MFA. Instead she sat for an interview with TIME calling out the craziness.
All this reminds me of my own children when they were young and silly and tired and looking for attention: “Mommmm, he’s looking out my window.” “Mommmmm, she’s breathing my air.” (You’ll have to imagine the creaky, put-upon, incredibly wounded voices.)
These days, when it is hate crime to disagree, when it is a “micro-aggression” to empathize, when any reasonable discourse is shut down because of all the yelling, when the only “authentic” person is seething mass of feelings and not much else, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised the whole world sounds like silly children looking for attention.
Every single culture is a compilation of its history – a compilation of true aggression and imposition (the kind that’s done with the sword), of natural disasters, of migrations, of discoveries, of the natural change that occurs with time. We’re all mongrels. We’re all a fusion. It’s part of belonging to the human race. We are none of us “pure” in any sense of the word.
My suggestion, therefore, before this white, Irish/French/German/English girl tells you all how to make an awesome Pernil (or Puerto Rican pork), is to relax and look outward instead of inward. You aren’t the center of the universe. Learn from everyone. Appreciate everyone. Culture isn’t a zero sum game. If someone borrows something from your culture, it doesn’t mean that there is less for you. It is, in fact, a tribute when another person adopts your way of doing things. That means what you’re doing is clever, useful, exciting, beautiful, or tasty – to name a few possibilities.
Now on to the tasty.
The first time I had pernil was at a company Christmas potluck luncheon. One of the pressmen brought it in. I wondered at the time how it was possible to make such a tender, delicious pork. The crackling was to die for.
The first time I actually made it, I got the recipe from a Puerto Rican friend. It came out fabulous. Then I lost the recipe, so I looked up pernil on the internet and found that for every cook, there is yet another riff on this dish.
I would hazard it is the same in every culture where the intent is to make a cheap cut of meat palatable. Each family has its own recipe for what is available and after a while there emerges a same, but different national dish. (Perhaps this means I need to do a post on French Canadian Meat Pie and what my grandmother claimed was the only “real” way of making it.)
Today I had promised to make not one, but four pernils for my brother’s church supper club. The recipe that follows is the one I used this time. It may not be the recipe I use the next time, as next time I may forget to buy cilantro or not have enough cumin or oregano in the pantry. It doesn’t matter. What matters in a pernil is that there is a tenderizing acid and that the cooking is long and slow. The ingredient amounts here are just a guideline to my way of doing things. If you don’t like it, then look for your own recipe…
5-9 pound pork picnic shoulder on the bone w/the skin
Juice of 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1 lime (should be about 2/3 cup)
2T cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 small-medium onion, cut into quarters
8-10 garlic cloves, peeled
½ bunch cilantro
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and cut into quarters
1T ground cumin
2T dried oregano
2T coarse sea salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
The pernil should wallow in the marinade for 24 hours, so start the day before you want to eat this.
Roughly chop the onion, garlic, cilantro, bell pepper in a food processor or blender.
Add the vinegar and olive oil. Continue to puree.
Add the cumin, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper. Continue to puree.
Add the citrus juices. Blend well. The result should be a slightly bumpy sauce.
Cut under the fat and skin of the pork shoulder so that it can be folded back. Make deep slits in the meat.
Put the pork shoulder in a non-reactive dish or roasting pan and rub the marinade into the meat. Reposition the skin. Score it (this isn’t easy and sometimes I skip this) and rub marinade over it. Pour the rest of marinade over and around the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and better for 24.
Take the meat out of the refrigerator about an hour before cooking. Wipe the excess marinade off the skin (to help it crisp.)
If the dish the meat is in is too small to roast it in, then transfer to a larger roasting pan. Add water to the pan so that there is an inch or two of liquid in the pan.
Cover with foil and roast at 300 degrees for 4 hours. Then uncover and roast for another 3 hours. Add more water to pan as necessary.
Let the meat rest for half an hour before shredding with a fork.
Enjoy! This makes enough for 6-10 main dish servings with sides.
The pernil is done when it shreds easily. The timing can vary depending on the size of the pork shoulder.
The idea is to have a nice crispy skin and crackling. I’ve also done this by keeping the meat covered until almost the end and then removing the skin and broiling it, flipping it as necessary. This makes a really delicious crackling, but is rather a pain in the neck if you’re trying to do other things in the kitchen at the same time. I’ve also tried broiling the whole shoulder at the end, but I haven’t found that as successful, although others do it that way.