Slow Cooker Puerto Rican Pernil With Pique Criollo

Fall apart-tender pork flavored with garlic and oregano from the slow cooker. . Jennifer Olvera

Several months back, when the weather was much chillier, I wrote a piece about making kalua pork in the slow cooker. It comes out juicy and tender with plenty of flavor packed into it—comforting, cold-weather fare. In an attempt to steel myself against the changing temperatures, I've revisited the idea, using a very similar technique, but this time transforming it into a Puerto Rican-style pernil: pork shoulder rubbed with copious amounts of garlic, oregano, and salt, that's slow cooked with a little liquid for 18 hours until it's fall-apart tender.

To accompany the dish, I also prepared a simple, vinegar-based hot sauce—pique criollo—made with a mix of pepper, pineapple, garlic, bay leaves and oregano. It's a simple recipe, but it takes some time. Two days, at minimum, is key, three is even better. When it's ready, it really wakes up the flavor of the pork. The best part? The hot sauce will last a few weeks in the fridge, so you can use it on everything.

Key to this recipe is getting the flavor of the rub to penetrate deeply into the pork shoulder. Scoring a cross-hatch pattern about a quarter inch deep ensures the rub adheres and gives it something to cling to. Then, marinating the meat overnight once it's rubbed lets the flavors set in.

While 18 hours in the slow cooker seems like a long time, it's exactly what this dish demands. Adding a small amount of water and vinegar keeps it from drying out during cooking and promotes tenderness, while flipping the roast halfway through the process ensures it cooks up even and browned. If you find that the liquid level is low at any point, just add a little more water and vinegar.

When the meat is ready, I serve it in rustic fashion—pulled apart in hunks. Don't worry, even the biggest chunks will fall apart on the plate when you serve it. There's nothing formal about this meal; it's meant to be communal and fun. However, you can slice it if that's what you prefer.

Serve it doused generously with pique criollo, along with some beans and rice or oven-roasted potatoes. Later, tuck leftover meat and a dash of hot sauce into crusty bread for a quick, easy lunch.