Pernil Asado and a Work From Home Diary (Day 5)

We can count March 17 at 5:12 p.m. as when our oldest finally cracked.

Schools in Onondaga County closed, officially, this week when the first case of Coronavirus was found in our neck of the woods. There was a plan to have schools open until today, before going on a countywide lockout. My wife, a history teacher at my alma mater, and my fourth grader both shifted to remote learning.

The hot phrase during this time is “continuity of education.” Schools want to ensure that kids don’t lose ground or experience a backslide in skills as children are sent away from their tightly-packed environments. Kansas was the first state to press the red button; others will likely follow.

We live in the suburbs and my wife teaches in another set of them, the challenges we are seeing are much different than my chiropractor, whose wife is a teacher in our local city school district. Our home district is ramping up their distance learning programs for elementary students. My wife is maintaining office hours and updating her Google Classroom daily.

As the spouse of a teacher, I have a rather unique view of education but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the American education system is not built for this. I’m going to oversimplify this greatly. Our teachers are not built to educate from afar, nor are our students conditioned to learn remotely. The entire construct is based on butts in desks and a teacher at the front of the room. Education has been mechanized learning to be something that ends at the final bell. Homework is treated as a burden by students and parents. Some schools have even ditched homework as policy. Once that final bell rings, kids head to sports practices, gymnastics classes, and such. The endless work day experienced by some parents means that there isn’t always an authority at home to redirect their kids to the homework table.

My daughter has built a rapport with her teacher and they have established an important student-teacher relationship. Overnight, my wife has stepped into the primary educator role. After 20+ years in a high school classroom, she’s trying to relate with a 9-year-old. Conversely, my kid is trying to juggle how she related to my wife, not as her mother, but as a teacher.

Like every other basic suburban family, we setup a schedule of how we wanted our daughter’s day to go. By the end of day one, it was largely abandoned. Now, we’re just doing what we can do because we’re just not built to deliver learning this way in America.

***

I wandered through Wegmans yesterday during a midday run for bread and noticed that the meat case was only about one-quarter full. There were a ton of pork shoulders available, which is worth mentioning because they are so flavorful and so easy to cook. Pretty much every pork shoulder recipe out there involves cooking the hell out of the meat until it falls apart, including pork shoulder with tomatoes and fennel, pork chile verde stew, drunken pork stew, pork-hominy stew, and pulled pork and Dr. Pepper sauce.

Inspired by a recent trip to Syracuse’s only Cuban restaurant, I took a shot at Cuban-style pernil asado, or pulled pork. There was a three-pound pork shoulder sitting in the freezer, which meant all I really needed was some citrus fruit and garlic.

Pernil asado gets an overnight marinade in citrus juices and an obscene amount of garlic, before going into the oven for 5 to 6 hours. After it stands, you break it down for serving. The pork self bastes in its own fat, which melted and left me with just around 2 lbs. of meat. I periodically added water to the pan to keep things from drying out, but this is truly one of those dishes that you put in the oven and walk away from.

WHAT WORKED: You reuse all of the ingredients here. After setting the pork shoulder on a rack in a roasting pan, I strained the marinade. The liquid went into the bottom of pan. The garlic was then spread over the meat to season and flavor it.

WHAT DIDN’T: I roasted it for six hours. Next time, I would probably only do it five as it was just a touch dry in some spots.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy. The hardest part of making this is remembering to check on it every couple of hours.

SERVE WITH: Black beans and rice. If you have time, go make a traditional Cuban black beans and rice. Otherwise, steam a cup of long grain white rice and simmer can of Goya red label black bean soup, which is ready to heat and eat. It’s a quick, cheap side that is full of flavor.

Pernil Asado and a Work From Home Diary (Day 5)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. good quality chili powder (Penzey's Ancho Chili Powder is exceptional)
  • 15 to 20 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cups freshly-squeezed orange juice (I used three navel oranges)
  • 2 cups freshly-squeezed lime juice (I used five limes)
  • 3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder or 5-6 lbs. bone-in pork shoulder
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Add the oregano, chili powder, garlic and juices to a food processor. Run the processor on low for 30 seconds to combine all of the ingredients.

Place the pork shoulder in a deep bowl or extra large zipper bag. Pour the sauce over it, seal the container and refrigerate overnight, at least 10-12 hours.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Set a rack inside of a roasting pan.

Remove the pork shoulder from the marinade and set it on the rack.

Pour the marinade through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Spread the reserved garlic and herbs in the strainer on the meat evenly.

Add the reserved marinade to the bottom of the pan, along with 1 cup of water.

Place in the preheated oven and cook 5 hours, checking hourly to ensure that the bottom of the pan is covered in liquid. If it goes dry, at 2 cups of water.

Remove the meat from the oven, cover and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes. Strain any remaining juices from the pan into a bowl.

Using two large forks, shred and pull the pork apart. Discard any large chunks of fat. Add the meat to a serving platter and spoon any remaining cooking juice over the top.

This recipe was informed by multiple online sources, including Saveur, The New York Times and All Recipes.

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