The Dilworth Tasting Room executive chef’s variation of the traditional Puerto Rican dish pernil with arroz con gandules is an homage to family and the comforts of home.
by Michael J. Solender • photographs by Justin Driscoll
There’s no faster trip down childhood’s memory lane for Dilworth Tasting Room Executive Chef Jon Shuler than the homey and wildly popular Puerto Rican plate of slow roasted pork shoulder with rice and pigeon peas. Nearly every family on the Caribbean island has its own unique take on pernil with arroz con gandules, though it’s Shuler’s mother and grandmother’s highly seasoned, smoky version of the special comfort food he lovingly recalls growing up in the Bronx.
Shuler’s iteration of the classic dish lies at the intersection of adobo-rubbed, garlicky, tender pork with crisp, crackling skin and the bright, sofrito-seasoned rice studded with starchy pigeon peas.
“In a word,” says Shuler, describing his love for the dish, “It tastes like home — it’s soul food for me.”
Born in New York, Shuler moved to Raleigh at age 8 and relocated to Charlotte about three years ago. Both his parents and grandparents hail from Puerto Rico, and they brought the island’s culinary traditions to their respective kitchens in the Bronx — familial social and cultural hubs Shuler recalls with special warmth.
“Home-cooked dinner was always waiting for my sister and me at my grandmother’s when we returned from school,” Shuler says. “It was important to her that we came straight home, and we were rewarded with every meal. It was definitely love on a plate.”
Pernil with arroz con gandules, while simple and economical, is traditionally a special-occasion dish often served at large family gatherings or holidays, according to Shuler. “Rice and pigeon peas (similar to black-eyed peas) are served at almost every Puerto Rican meal and considered a staple,” he says. “Preparing and cooking roasted pork shoulder, particularly the size to feed a large gathering, is a time-consuming process, days in the making, and is typically reserved for special occasions.”
First, a large pork shoulder (up to 15 pounds) is obtained from a butcher, then marinated using both a special adobo rub (a blend of chilis, peppers, garlic, annatto seed, herbs and spices) and sofrito (a condiment of aromatic vegetables and herbs such as peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes) overnight. Then the pork is roasted low and slow for six to eight hours. The result is skin so crisp and crackly, it’s fought over at the table. The tender, falling-off-the-bone meat is piled high on family plates and served in its roasting juices alongside bright, aromatic rice and pigeon peas spiced with a special sazon, cooked in rendered pork fat, and steamed until light and fluffy. The plate is completed with a leafy green salad and a ripe avocado, which serve as perfect foils alongside the savory main dish.
“I love the simplicity and layered flavors involved in the preparation,” Shuler says. “It’s this technique and approach I look to incorporate in my style of cooking today.”
While you won’t find pernil with arroz con gandules at DTR, Shuler and his team employ similar techniques in a popular item at the Dilworth location: Paycers tamale is a deconstructed dish featuring adobo pulled pork, cotija grits, salsa ranchero, pickled red onions and peppers. At DTR SouthPark, the veal ossobuco ragu uses the low-and-slow roasting technique with veal knuckle to create the tender and flavorful sauce that’s served with house-made linguine.
“This style of cooking makes me happy. And I know it makes others happy as well.” SP
Pernil with arroz con gandules
(Roasted pork shoulder with rice and pigeon peas)
In this version of the classic Puerto Rican dish, Chef Shuler suggests a preparation that can be made at home with pantry ingredients readily available at many supermarkets and specialty grocery stores.
Pork ingredients :
Adobo spice (Goya is preferred)
5 lb. pork shoulder (bone-in, skin-on preferred)
Cilantro sofrito (Goya)
2 cups jasmine rice
3 cups vegetable stock
2 packets sazon (Goya)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon cilantro sofrito (Goya)
1 can gandules (Goya)
• Generously rub the pork with adobo spice to fully coat, followed by the sofrito.
• Allow to marinate overnight if time allows.
• Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
• On a tray, roast pork for 20 minutes in a 450-degree oven, then reduce the oven to 250 degrees and cook for six hours.
• For the rice: heat olive oil in a four-quart pan with lid.
• Add sofrito, gandules and rice to the pan to lightly toast and coat with oil.
• Add salt and cold vegetable stock
• Bring to a boil, mixing to ensure nothing sticks
• Once boiling, reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes
• After the first 15 minutes, fluff rice with a fork and remove from heat.
• Cover with lid off heat and allow to sit for an additional 10 minutes
• Serve with sliced avocado and a side salad.