My wife and I make it a point to eat a special meal on Sunday evenings. I try to mix up the variety of what we enjoy on Sunday night dinners but I typically make something that takes a while to cook. Slow cooking seems to come to our house on Sundays. That means braises, stews, and roasts. Long simmering sauces develop flavor as we (or I as the case may be) watch some football or baseball. At any rate, last Sunday I made pork shoulder rubbed with spices, surrounded by aromatic vegetables, and simmered or braised in a combination of wine and stock for several hours.
Braising a large piece of meat that is typically either too fatty or too tough to otherwise eat is an easy way to make a one pot meal. It tastes great and usually braising cuts of meat (beef, pork or otherwise) prove to be relatively inexpensive. This recipe is a typical one for me and I like the flavor combinations. However, the important thing here is the technique of deeply browning the meat and then slowly and gently simmering it covered for a several hours. If you master that technique, braising becomes almost impossible to mess up as the meat being braised typically is very forgiving.
So, if you don’t prefer the spice rub, use something else or simply omit it. I usually don’t measure out my spices. I go by feel. I’ll suggest some measurements but feel free to tweak it to suit your tastes. If you don’t have fennel, just use the onion and celery. Add some carrot if you like. Bell peppers are great in braises too. Really, any aromatic vegetable can be used. I used red wine because that’s what we had open. If you prefer white, go ahead and use it. I make my own stock. If you don’t have homemade stock, don’t use store bought (too many chemicals and too little liquid per container). Simply use some water seasoned with salt. Consider adding a touch of vinegar to your water or lemon juice. If you use water, simply simmer the vegetables in the water for a longer period of time and all of a sudden you’ve made a ‘short broth’. At any rate, the recipe is flexible.
As an aside, I purchased my pork shoulder in a package and the pork came with skin on the side that was not viewable. Generally speaking, you won’t run into this issue. However if you do, simply take a knife and remove the skin. It’s pretty simple if you use a serrated knife and work slowly. Sometimes having the skin is great. However, since we need to brown the meat on all sides, the skin just won’t work, so remove it.
If you look at the recipe, there are quite a few ingredients and probably a daunting number of steps to prepare the meal. Most of these happen during the first thirty minutes of cooking. The remaining steps happen from time to time and simply involve checking the dish as it cooks every hour or so. Time and low temperatures do most of the work here for the majority of the time. So, don’t let that scare you away!
I served the pork with a salad and some crusty bread. Crusty bread is almost a necessity with this dish as you can dip the bread into the reduced wine/stock sauce…so good.
5-8 lb. pork shoulder roast
¼ Cup vegetable oil
For the Rub:
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
2 Tablespoons coriander
2 Tablespoons cumin
2 Tablespoons ground ginger
1 Tablespoon turmeric
Freshly ground pepper to taste
For the Braise:
½ Bottle red or white wine
1 Quart Chicken stock (or whatever stock you have handy or use lightly salted water)
2 Onions sliced thinly
1 Bulb Fennel, thinly sliced
3 Stalks celery, sliced thinly
5 Cloves garlic, crushed
4 Fresh Bay Leaves
Small handful of fresh sage leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash red pepper flakes
1 Tomato, seeded and finely chopped
2 Green onions, green portion roughly chopped
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- Take pork shoulder out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (around an hour or so).
- After the pork is at room temperature, dry the pork with paper towels. You don’t want to dry completely but it needs to be dryer than when it comes out of the package or butcher’s paper.
- Combine all ingredients in the spice rub and rub generously over the pork. Allow to sit for around 30 minutes or so.
- While waiting on the pork: slice the onions, crush the garlic, slice the fennel, and chop the celery and set aside. Gather the bay leaves and sage and set aside.
- Heat a large Dutch oven over medium high heat for several minutes. Add the oil. The oil should cover the bottom of the pan. Add more if it does not. After one more minute, add the pork to the pan and brown deeply on all sides (at least 3 minutes or so on each side though the best gage is to simply look at it and if the meat is deeply brown without burning, then turn it).
- If the meat starts to burn (the spice rub will have a tendency to do that), turn down the heat to medium and continue.
- Once meat is browned on all sides, remove pork from heat and place on a plate nearby.
- Add all the vegetables to the pan. Add the bay leaves and sage. Add a generous pinch of kosher salt and stir, gently scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the bits that became stuck. Continue to cook the vegetables until starting to brown on the edges. As the vegetables cook, they will lose volume so don’t worry if your pan seemed really crowed when you placed all the veggies in the pan initially.
- Add a dash of red pepper flakes and add the bottle of wine.
- Turn the pan up to medium high if you lowered it, and allow wine to reduce until it reaches around a cup in quantity.
- Once the wine is reduced, add the quart of stock. Allow to reduce slightly (bring to boil and allow to simmer around 5 minutes). Taste the liquid and add just a small touch of salt if necessary (you will adjust the seasoning at the end and the liquid will evaporate and condense as it cooks which will intensify the salt and seasoning so go lightly at first with salt).
- Place the pork shoulder in the liquid and vegetable mix in the pot. It should basically be close to half covered. We aren’t stewing the meat here so the meat should never be fully submerged in when braising. This isn’t exact so just go with it if it isn’t fully covered. If it is fully covered, take the pork back out, reduce the liquid more and return the pork to the pan and continue.
- Bring pot to back to boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer the roast for 2-3 hours (depending on size).
- After the first hour or so, check the liquid level to ensure it’s not evaporating too quickly. Add additional liquid if needed (I rarely need to do this but every once in a while it happens). The liquid should be gently bubbling but not at a full boil. If it is at full boil, do not place lid back on tightly. Allow a little space so that some steam can escape. Continue on.
- At this point, turn the roast over in the pan and recover and simmer another hour.
- After the 2nd hour, turn roast again and check liquid level. At this point, check for doneness by taking a pair of tongs and pull the meat. If it starts to loosen, you are almost done. Either way, cover again and allow to simmer.
- After another half hour, check roast again. It could be done at this point. Check again for doneness using the same method as above. You will know when it’s done when the pork pulls off the bone easily.
- Remove the roast from the pot and place on platter. Cover with tin foil.
- Increase heat on pot to medium and reduce the liquid sauce to desired thickness, stirring often. I usually remove mine from the heat when I have about two cups of liquid remaining in the pan. At this point, taste the sauce. If it needs a bit more salt, add it now in small increments tasting as you go until you reach a salt level that tastes right to you.
- Once at desired thickness, remove pan from heat and cover.
- Take tomato and remove seeds. Chop finely. Chop green onion tops coarsely.
- Use tongs and pull the pork off the bone. This should be very easy to do without much effort at all. Ideally there should be some amount of resistance when the pork is pulled but it should be very easy.
- Once pork is removed from the bone, carefully remove the bay leaves from the sauce. Then, gently ladle the sauce over the pork. Once the pork is topped with the sauce, use tongs to incorporate sauce into the pork. Place pork bone in center of the platter so it is visible (I like the way it looks, if you don’t, skip it). Add a bay leaf over the bone.
- Take the tomatoes and gently sprinkle over the pork. Do the same with the chopped green onion tops. Drizzle with olive oil and add some freshly ground pepper over the top.
- Serve immediately.