Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Braised Pork Picnic (half) Shoulder
We had always seen those huge, 14lb. Pork Picnic Shoulders at various supermarkets and marvelled over their sheer size. However, operating as a two-person team (most of the time) has always steered us towards the pork butts and smaller cuts. Sure, we probably could have asked the butcher to cut one for us, but... we didn't.
Then we discoverd the half picnic shoulder - a wonderful invention of bone-in pork shoulder, but only half the size! And at only ~$1/pound, we were dancing (as a certain Brit would say). We deposited a 6lb half shoulder in our shopping cart - along with some carrots, onion, celery, and garlic - and headed home. After paying for it all, of course.
But what to DO with our picnic shoulder? Roast it? Would come out dry, for sure. Grill it? A good option (sear, then move to one side and keep the other side on low), but again we were afraid of the meat drying out. What is the obvious choice for a cheap cut of meat that ideally could cook slowly for a couple hours and not get dried out? To braise, naturallement!
To braise means to sear and then simmer for a long period of time, either on the stove top or in the oven. The searing was accomplished after removing some of the fat and a large hunk of skin that made up one side of the shoulder, giving the shoulder a light canola oil rub and then a cover of kosher salt and cracked pepper. Additionally, we made several slits in the meat and inserted sliced garlic into the slits... this paid off big time! Introduce shoulder to hot canola oil in a hot enameled cast iron dutch oven and sear for a minute or two per side. Then, out she comes, a wipe down of the pan with paper towels (using tongs) and in with some fresh canola oil and then onions (1 medium), chopped up celery (this is for flavor, not necessarily consumption), and a couple leftover slivers of garlic.
When those ingredients have sweated out, we are ready for our braising liquid. After looking up recipes when we arrived home (shouldn't we do this BEFORE going to the store?) we realized that a popular braising liquid for this pork was unfiltered apple cider. We had none, so we had to improvise. Another recipe had the pork marinate overnight in Coca-Cola. We didn't have the "overnight" part, but we did have the Coca-Cola. Also, when we had made braised shortribs in the past, we included some vinegar in the braising liquid which imparted some nice, tangy flavor. And, we always deglaze the pan with a little red wine. We had some pork bouillion cubes in the cabinet that could fill our the volume with some hot water, too. Finally, Mike likes beer.
So we assembled our braising liquid - a splash of red wine, half a beer (Corona, a summer leftover!), a few glasses worth of Coca-Cola, generous pours of red wine vinegar, and the double pork bouillion cube broken up with about 2 cups of hot water added... smelled interesting and the beer dominated, but we knew that beer smell would mellow over the next hours and everything would meld together.
Settle the pork back in the pan and transferred to our pre-heated 325-degree oven. After an hour, we turned the meat over and had an amazing aroma throughout our house and the meat was already beginning to pull off the bone! After another hour we went to turn the meat back over and checked the temperature at this time... luckily. Temp came back at 180-degrees and the pork was ready to come out! Onto a platter and covered with aluminum it went, but not before a couple of strips were peeled off and eaten - so tender!!!
We then decided to put the leftover braising liquid to good use by boiling some veggies in it while at the same time reducing it. We put the pot back on the stove top and brought it to a boil. Chunk-cut carrots and celery went in for about 10 minutes before we threw in cubed sweet potatoes. Another 15 minutes and everything was done... plus the liquid had reduced by a 1/3 or so.
We cut up the pork based on what looked right - huge chunks - and served it up with the veggies and a little spoon of reduced liquid over the top and a little dijon on the side.
It came out perfectly - very tender and a natural pork flavor. Maybe next time we'll add the dijon right to the braising liquid, but the cooking time/temp couldn't have been better!