Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Recipe- Pork Shoulder

I really don't eat or cook that much meat.  I like it alright, I just never get a hankerin' for it that often.  But when I do, the things I like cooking best are the slow-cooking, braising types.  I like beef shorts ribs, chuck roasts, and pork shoulders.  Pastured and forested pork is so amazingly flavorful by itself.   But it also picks up new flavors really well, so it is easy to make a shoulder complex, rich and flavorful without doing much of anything.  I also like to braise meats because the longer they cook, the better.  I always get so worried about overcooking a dry-roast beef roast or a baked chicken.  When something is slow-braised you can throw it in a low oven and know that four hours is even better than two....

It is very very important that the quality of the meat is good.  Never try to do this with anything that comes from a grocery store (unless it's Greenlife and it's Sequatchie Cove meat).  The Main Street Farmer's Market has two beef vendors and three pork (and one lamb, but that's a different story).  My rule for eating meat is that I have to at least have met the farmer who raised the animal, if not the animal itself.   I never eat meat outside of that, and wouldn't DREAM of buying anything other than local, grass-fed, happy-lived meats.   It would be a waste of time and money, not to mention all the other stuff that I won't mention.

 for six people (or less than that, but with leftovers):

  • 1 medium sized pork shoulder- around five pounds- fat intact
  • 2 heads garlic
  • large handful of herbs- I used oregano and thyme, but anything works
  • 2 dried chilies (fresh work just as well, in the summer when they're in season)
  • liquid of some kind (I like to use different fruit juices and/or alcohol.  This time I used pear juice and mead.  Beer, white wine, or cider are also good, as are apricot nectar or pineapple juice - whatever you have)
  • Salt and pepper
Those are just suggestions....  Really, you can use anything you want,  less garlic, more chilies, or maybe some spices.... Whatever you use, it will be good, and don't forget to be generous with it.    Sometimes I like to use some canela cinnamon and a couple cloves, more chilies, and more oregano to give it a kind of Mexican flavor....  it all depends on how you feel that day.

-preheat oven to around 350 degrees F

Throw the herbs etc in the bottom of a large dutch oven-style pot.   I have a big Le Cruset that I cook just about everything in.   A tight lid and heavy pot are all that is important.   Put the shoulder(s) in and generously salt and pepper them.    Pour liquid over everything.  You don't have to cover the meat, it should just come about half-way up.  Put lid on your pot and throw it in the oven for at least two and a half hours.  Longer is better, but not too long (like not until the liquid has evaporated and the house is burning down).  The meat should be very tender, not tough, when you poke it.  If it is still tough it will be very dry because the magic hasn't happened yet.  With all meat, there is a gray-area in between magics.  Either you cook meat quickly til it is barely done, or you cook it forever til it is very done.  Even if it is cooked in liquid it will be dry if you try to pull it out too early....   I like to check it every hour or so to see how it is doing.  If the liquid has dried up, add more. 

If you want to save the braising liquid to pour over the pulled meat,  take the meat out of the pot and pour the liquid into a container and put it in the refrigerated for several hours.  There will be a LOT of fat on it, and cooling it is the easiest way to get it off; it rises up and hardens and you can just scoop it out.  There should still be fat on the shoulder roast,  cut it off and do with it what you will.  It is important to leave on while cooking because it helps keep the meat moist and tasty.  The easiest way to get the meat ready for eating is to pull out all the bones- they should slide right out- and pull the meat with your hands or forks into bite-sized shreds.  Serve with or without the liquid with cornbread, grits, rice, or whatever else you happen to love.

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