A Recipe for Spiritual Bliss

I have said that Puerto Rican food was comfort food in the Piurek/Bergstrom/Bauza household.  While that is true, it has become much more than just comfort food for me.  In particular, the combination of Pernil (roast pork shoulder) Arroz con Gandules (rice and pigeon peas) and Tostones (twice fried green plantains) has some magical property that makes me happy, at peace, in a state of spiritual bliss. Really.

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog about how to make Tostones. This blog is about how to make Pernil and Arroz con Gandules, the other two elements of the recipe for spiritual bliss.


This recipe is from the Valldejuli Puerto Rican Cookery, my go-to source for PR food. A pork shoulder (also called a “picnic” or a “fresh ham”) is rubbed with a spice mix, marinated overnight, then roasted in a 350F oven for 35 minutes per pound till it reaches 185F, and served with gravy made from the pan drippings.  You need to adjust the amount of the seasoning based on the size of the roast.  Since I was just making this for myself, I bought the smallest roast I could find, about 3 lbs. You are more likely to be using a 6 lb roast (or larger) so you will need to at least double the amount of the spice rub.  You may also need to adjust the amount of fat and liquid in the gravy, depending on the amount of drippings you have, adding some butter if necessary to make more roux, and adding some water if necessary to the defatted liquid to have enough gravy overall.  For a six pound roast, you want about ¼ cup of fat (to mix with ¼ cup flour) and 3 cups of defatted liquid.


 3 lbs bone-in pork shoulder with skin and fat left on*

4 whole black pepper corns

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 tsp whole dried oregano

1 T olive oil

1 tsp sea salt for each lb of meat

flour (for gravy)

*The Valldejuli recipe calls for removing the fat and skin, but I wanted to end up with some crisped skin (chicharrón) to make Mofongo, so I left it on.  My next blog will be about Mofongo, the Food of the Gods.


Wash meat rapidly under running water, drain and wipe dry with paper towels. Put meat fat side up in a roasting pan. Score top of roast in diamonds.

Crush and mix the pepper, garlic, oregano, olive oil and salt in a mortar or spice grinder.

Rub the spice mix all over the meat, pushing it into the scoring on the top. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove meat from refrigerator ½ hour before cooking time so it comes to room temperature.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Roast meat for 35 minutes per pound to 185F.

Remove roast from pan to a cutting board or serving platter to rest.

Drain drippings from roasting pan into a measuring cup. Skim fat from top and measure amount of fat.  In a saucepan, make a roux with the fat and an equal amount of flour, stirring slowly and carefully smoothing out the lumps.  Meanwhile, return the defatted liquid to the pan, along with any liquid that may have accumulated from the resting roast on the cutting board, and bring rapidly to a boil while deglazing the roasting pan.  Gradually add the liquid to the roux in the saucepan over moderate heat, until it boils and thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Slice the roast and serve with the gravy, arroz con gandules and tostones.

Arroz con Gandules Asopao

This recipe, which serves six, is also from the Valldejuli book.  It's an asopao, which is a wet combination of rice and beans, rather than dry.  The Pernil is also good with plain white rice and the beans cooked separately, like I described in my Ropa Vieja blog.  That time I made white rice and jazzed up a can of black beans using a sofrito base from a jar.  You can do the same thing with a can of gandules.  This s a more "fancy pants" version, with a made-from-scratch sofrito, and the rice cooked in a lot of liquid with the gandules, so it becomes like a very thick soup.  You could also make a drier version of this by just using half as much water.  Or just stop this recipe at the point where you add the rice, and make a separate batch of plain white rice Puerto Rican style (see my Ropa Vieja blog).

Here's how you make the asopao: First brown some salt pork and ham, add some bacon fat and achiote seasoning and sauté a sofrito of green pepper, tomato, sweet chilies, garlic, cilantro and oregano for 10 minutes. Then add a can of gandules, drained, plus stuffed olives, capers, tomato sauce and salt.  To this add rice that has been soaked for 30 minutes in water and the liquid from the can of gandules.  Bring the water and bean liquid to a boil and add to the pot with the beans and the other ingredients, and then cook uncovered over moderate heat for 20 minutes. You want to eat this as soon as it’s done, so start making it about an hour before the pork is finished roasting. You can make tostones (see my blog, Tostones!) while the asopao is in its final 20 minute sauté, as it is also important that they be eaten as soon as they are done.


1 can (1 lb) gandules (pigeon peas)

7 cups water

1 oz salt pork

2 oz ham

1 ½ cups rice (I use Goya medium grain)

3 T bacon fat

1 package Achiote seasoning

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 green pepper, seeded

3 sweet chili pepper, seeded

6 fresh cilantro leaves

1 tomato

6 olives, stuffed with pimentos

½ tsp capers

¼ cup tomato sauce

1 T salt


Drain can of gandlues, saving the liquid and adding it to the 7 cups of water.  Wash the rice thoroughly in a strainer, drain and soak in the liquid for 30 minutes.

Dice the ham and salt pork and chop the garlic, green pepper, sweet chili peppers, cilantro and tomato.

Brown  the ham and salt pork rapidly over high heat.

Reduce heat to moderate and add the bacon fat, oregano, Anchiote and the chopped vegetables. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add gandules, olives, capers and salt and mix together.  [NOTE:  if you wanted to make some really good gandules, with plain white rice separately, you could stop here and just simmer the gandules for awhile until the pernil is ready,]

Drain rice, saving soaking liquid, and add rice to pot.  Heat the soaking liquid to boiling and add to pot.

Cook over moderate heat, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

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