Friday, September 4, 2009

Braised Pork Shoulder

The pork shoulder have always been a cut of meat I wanted to learn to prepare. It is shamelessly fatty and flavorful (my favorite kind of meat), but does require some patience for it to transform from tough and chewy to melt-in-your-mouth. You know if you do it right, it will be delicious.
The common methods of preparing pork shoulders are braising, roasting, and barbecue. I chose the braising route this time, but barbecue is something I vow to attempt in the future. Cuban barbecue pork shoulder? Mmmmmmm!!!

I bought the smallest pork shoulder I could find in the store, and it was 7.8 lbs. I repeat, 7.8 lb chunk of meat. I have never felt like such a carnivore until I had to haul that heavy a piece of meat home.

Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder

7.8 lb pork shoulder
salt and freshly-ground pepper
canola oil
one large onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 potato, unpeeled and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
3-4 cups apple cider
5 juniper berries
1 teaspoon dried thyme
8 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
4 fresh sage leaves
8 whole cloves

Rub the meat with salt and pepper and canola oil, then sear the meat in a cast-iron skillet, at medium-high heat, until it is nicely browned on all sides. As you can see in the picture, the shoulder barely fit in the skillet. I should have used my largest one!

When the meat is nicely browned, about 8-10 minutes, place it in a large pot. I could not find my Dutch oven, which would have been perfect, and used a large oven-proof oven soup pot instead. The meat was so heavy I had to hoist it out of the skillet and into the pot with both tongs and a meat fork.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the meat is in the pot, I added the chopped carrots, onions, and potatoes into the skillet so they cook in the remaining oil and fat. I want to make a note that organic carrots always works best, since they are always so much sweeter and flavorful than non-organic carrots. You may add salt and pepper to your taste, and the tablespoon of butter (salted or unsalted), and sautee until the carrots and potatoes are soft. Scoop up the carrots and potatoes and add it to the large pot with the pork, and let the onions cook a little longer until it has caramelized. Add the onions to the pot.

Add the rest of the ingredients (apple cider and spices) into the pot, and place in the middle of the oven. Let braise for about 6-7 hrs. If you don't want to use an oven, you can also braise this stove-top at very low heat. While it is cooking, check to see whether you need to add more liquids - the liquid should almost cover the meat.

Because my cut of meat was so big, I had to braise it for about 6.5 hrs (I would have braised it a little longer, but the hunger whines were getting out of control). I served it over some white rice, and sprinkled with some chopped green onions. The leftovers were delicious too, sitting in the fridge overnight, then being reheated softens the pork even more, giving it a melt-y texture.
(I sort of just threw everything on a plate and snapped a quick picture, so I apologize if it's not the prettiest looking thing - we were all very hungry, and the house smelled divine when the meat cooked the whole 6 hrs.

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