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Pernil, Venezuela’s Classic Christmas Roast

Liliana pernil Venezuela

Pernil, fall-off-the-bone pork leg or shoulder that is slow-roasted for hours, is the culinary centerpiece of the Christmas celebration in many Latino countries and certainly in her homeland, says Liliana Hernandez, one of our favorite Venezuelan cooks. In Caracas, where she grew up, and throughout the country, tradition dictates that the main meal each December 24 or 25 is a festive plate piled with four dishes, says Liliana.

The first is, of course, this pernil, marinated overnight, juicy on the inside, caramelized-crispy on the outside, and savory all over. Served beside it is one hallaca—Venezuela’s take on the tamale, a pork, beef and chicken-filled corn masa treat wrapped in banana leaves and steamed or boiled. The last two Christmas essentials in Venezuela’s festive four are: chicken salad and pan de jamon, says Liliana. Pan de jamon is a sweet bread dough made with flour, eggs, sugar, milk and yeast—and then stuffed with slices of ham, olives and raisins. “No one can stop eating it all December,” says Liliana, adding that pan de jamon is one of the main reasons she and everyone she knows in Venezuela has to go on a diet every January.

Liliana pernil sliced Venzuela
Liliana’s slow-roasted family-famous Christmas pernil is juicy inside, crispy caramelized outside.

All four dishes are deeply loved holiday essentials in Venezuela, but pernil is the slow-cooked star of the meal, says Liliana. Each year, she loves how her home is filled with the scent of caramelized, crispy-succulent roast pork. The secret to its tender flavor and crunchy texture is hours in the oven at 325° heat, as the meat roasts to tender perfección. “And then, to get that delicious crusty-golden outside, in the last 30 minutes turn up the oven to anywhere between 380° and 400°. The high heat gives the pernil a final zap to brown the edges,” says Liliana. “It makes the pork shoulder or pork leg taste truly out of this world.”

Finally, the sauce. Much like we do with our Thanksgiving turkey, Liliana reduces the pan juices to make a sauce, thickened with butter and flour. “It makes the pernil tastes divino,” says Liliana. “Espectacular. Everyone looks forward to this Christmas cochino dish all year.”

Christmas in Venezuela means pernil, hallaca, pan de jamon and chicken salad.
Christmas in Venezuela means a holiday feast that includes four traditional dishes: slow-cooked pernil, banana leaf-wrapped hallacas, pan de jamon, and chicken salad.

Christmas Cooking Kickoff: Making the Pernil Shopping List

And so, every early December, Liliana sits down to write her shopping list and cooking plan to make this family-famous pernil and the other three dishes of Venezuelan Christmas. For her, that means it’s officially the start of the Christmas season, she says. We love thinking about how Liliana is joined by millions more homecooks, all writing their holiday pernil shopping lists in kitchens across Latin America. This is especially true in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where the holiday pork is rubbed with adobo and sazón and served alongside arroz con gandules (in Puerto Rico) or moro de guandules (in the D.R.).

Pernil marinating
In perparation for slow-roasting for 4 to 5 hours, Liliana marinates her Christmas roast overnight in a mixture of wine, orange juice, lime juice, garlic, onion, bay leaf and fresh herbs.

For her pernil-making step-by-step guidance, check out Liliana’s video master class on how to make Venezuelan pernil on her homecooking channel “Mi Show de Cocina.” For more delicioso dishes by Liliana, one of the homecooks celebrated in our Familia Kitchen Cookbook, check out her gorgeous bienmesabe cake, a meringue-topped, creamy coconuty cake. If you are all about savory, try her addictive tequeños, dough-wrapped cheese sticks, and her step-by-step video how to making traditional pork, beef and chicken hallacas, another Venezuelan Christmas season staple.

The best thing about pernil, according to Liliana, are the leftovers, ”if you miraculously have any left,” she says. ”The next day is all about the recalentado,” the reheating of this dish. ”In Venezuela, we love to eat nice, hot slices of pernil with our delicious arepas. It is lo máximo!”

Ready to Make Liliana’s Pernil Christmas Roast?

Pernil, Venezuela’s Classic Christmas Roast

4 from 4 votes
Recipe by Liliana Hernández Cuisine: Venezuelan
Servings

10 to 12

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

4

hours 

Ingredients

  • For the Marinade
  • 1 cup 1 white marsala wine

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 orange juice

  • 1 1 lime, freshly juiced

  • 1 Tbsp 1 Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 1 onion, quartered

  • 2 Tbsp 2 garlic, chopped

  • 2 Tbsp 2 salt, or to taste

  • 1 Tbsp 1 black pepper

  • 2 to 3 sprigs 2 to 3 thyme

  • 2 sprigs 2 oregano

  • 2 sprigs 2 rosemary

  • 2 sprigs 2 sage

  • 1 1 bay leaf

  • For the Slow-Roasted Pernil
  • 1 1 pernil (pork butt or shoulder), bone-in, about about 7 lbs

  • 1/2 oz 1/2 piloncillo or papelon (unrefined cane sugar)

  • 1/4 cup 1/4 olive oil

  • 1 cup 1 chicken broth, water or beer

  • 1 Tbsp 1 butter, unsalted

  • 1 Tbsp 1 flour

Directions

  • For the Marinade
  • In a blender, mix the wine, orange juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, onion, garlic, salt and black pepper until thoroughly dissolved and frothy.
  • Stir in the sprigs of thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage, plus the bay leaves to your mixture. Set the marinade aside.
  • Place the pork on a work surface. With a sharp knife, trim any excess fat. Insert the knife about 2 inches deep every 2 or 3 inches on all sides.
  • Place the meat in a bowl or a very large zip bag. Cover with the marinade.
  • Sea with foil or seal the zip bag and place in your fridge to marinate for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Slow Roast the Pernil
  • Preheat oven to 325°.
  • Remove the pernil from the fridge. Let the pork rest of 1 hour and come to room temperature.
  • In a large roasting pan with a rack, place the pork and all of the marinade. The side with the thin sheath of fat should be facing up.
  • Drizzle the olive oil over the pork, rubbing it into top, sides and bottom of each cut.
  • Cover with tinfoil and place in the 325° oven for about 4 hours.
  • About once per hour, baste the pernil in the marinade. If it is getting too dry, add a bit of chicken broth, water or beer.
  • When you have just 30 minutes left in cooking time, raise the temperature to 380° and remove the tinfoil.
  • Roast the pernil for a final 30 to 40 minutes, turning it every 10 minutes, so that each side turns golden brown.
  • You’ll know the pernil is ready when a meat thermoenter reaches 170 degrees or if you insert a fork and the internal juices run clear. The meat should look like it’s falling off the bone,” says Liliana.
  • Place the pernil on a cutting board or sheet pan with a rim to catch the juices. Leave the remaining marinade and brown bits in the roasting pan.
  • Tent lightly with tinfoil and let the pork rest for 20 to 30 minutes to let the juices settle.
  • Make the Sauce
  • In a small bowl, mix the butter and flour until smooth. Set aside.
  • On the stovetop set to medium heat, place the roasting pan, with the remaining marinade and pan juices. Stir the sauce as it reduces. Thin it with a little chicken broth, water or beer, as needed.
  • Stir in the piloncillo. When the sugar has completely dissolved, strain the sauce and return to the roasting pan.
  • Raise the heat to medium high. When the sauce starts to bubbled, whisk in the butter- and-flour paste, until it is fully absorbed.
  • Cook the sauce for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the reduced sauce to slightly thicken yet still remain liquidy, says Liliana.
  • Strain the sauce a second time. It’s ready.
  • Serve the Pernil
  • Slice or shred the pernil and arrange on your serving platter.
  • Drizzle with sauce and garnish with several sprigs of rosemary. Serve alongside the three other Christmas meal essentials: hallaca, pan de jamon and chickenm salad—accompanied by a side of sauce in a pretty bowl or gravy boat.

Notes

  • Slow-roast pernil for 35 to 40 minutes per each 1/2 pound, says Liliana. If your pernil weighs about 7 pounds, for example, slow roast it for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
Liliana pernil
Liliana offers a step-by-step video showing how she makes this family-famous pernil.
Liliana pernil
The traditional Venezuelan Christmas meal, el plato Navideño, is served at Liliana’s house. Feliz holidays!

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