Today was a perfect Saturday. We spent the morning going to the farmers’ market, and I spent the afternoon cooking. I also found out that my favorite meat vendor, Sugar Creek Ranch, will be coming into the city once a month after the markets end for the season, which means I don’t have to frantically fill my freezer with the best ham and chicken I’ve ever tasted. Phew! I got a pork shoulder from Sugar Creek and let it slowly braise in the oven all afternoon long.
Isn’t that a beautiful hunk of meat? The whole process was surprisingly easy, although it did take a while to get to the part where you can sip cocktails on the sofa and baste when you get up for refills. Not that I did that–my afternoon was filled with the slightly less glamorous task of laundry. I’m just pointing out that you could, if you felt so inclined, get incredibly tipsy and not worry a bit that you might screw up dinner.
The whole thing starts off with pancetta, the fat of which provides the foundation for caramelized onions and, finally, the pork. The pancetta smelled absolutely heavenly as soon as it began cooking, and scents of a similar quality continued to pour from my kitchen for the entire afternoon. If that’s not enough to entice you, how about the addition of ale and an entire head of garlic?
When all is said and done, the pork falls right off the bone and melts in your mouth. This would be perfect to make for a dinner party, because there’s very little to do with it once you get it in the oven (and because your guests will be impressed, of course). A couple of notes about the process–don’t bother trying to predict the ultimate flavor of the pork by tasting the juices early on. At the beginning, the ale will be very strong, and it’s really fascinating the way the flavors continue to evolve as it cooks. By the time the pork is done, most the the juice will have reduced, leaving just enough to serve over the pork.
Braised pork shoulder
Adapted from October’s Martha Stewart Living
- 6 oz pancetta, diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 bone-in pork shoulder (6-7 pounds, no skin)
- sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 head garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 c red or copper ale (I used Goose Island Harvest Ale)
- 1 and 1/2 c chicken stock
- In a dutch oven, cook pancetta over medium heat until crisp and fat is rendered (about 15-20 minutes). Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon, leaving drippings behind.
- Add onions to dutch oven. Cover and cook over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until onions are caramelized (about 25-30 minutes). Use slotted spoon to transfer onions to rest with pancetta.
- Season both sides of pork shoulder with salt and pepper and add oil to dutch oven. Raise heat to high. When oil is sizzling hot, add pork fat-side down. Cover and sear for about 5 minutes, then turn over and repeat.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Lower heat and add garlic, coriander, and a few grinds of pepper to pot. Cover and cook for about 1 minute, then add stock, ale, pancetta, and onions. Bring to a simmer.
- Transfer covered pot to oven and allow to simmer for about 4 hours. Baste at least once per hour.
- When meat is very tender and falling off the bone, remove from oven. Use two forks to shred pork onto a plate. Before serving, drizzle with remaining juices.
We enjoyed this with mashed potatoes, a green salad, and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Give this recipe a try–it’ll fill your home with a wonderful taste of fall!