All- Purpose Pork
Everyone should know how to make braised pork. It's ridiculously easy, make-ahead, versatile (the same recipe can be turned into pasta sauce, pulled pork sandwiches, carnitas tacos, a garnish for ramen, even just a simple roast with mashed potatoes)-- and most importantly, delicious! And most kids seem to like it, too-- so if you have people over, you don't have to worry about making "kid" and "adult" food.
Master Recipe for Braised Pork Shoulder
For about 6-8 servings
3 to 3 ½ pounds boneless pork shoulder roast
About 3 tablespoons pickling spices (or, about 3 tablespoons of whatever spices you have: fennel, cumin, coriander, allspice, cloves), crushed with a skillet or rolling pin)
¼ cup olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 garlic clove, minced
5 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped and stems discarded
5 sprigs fresh oregano, stripped and stems discarded
The night before you plan to cook the pork, poke holes in the roast with a fork (this allows the salt/seasonings to penetrate the meat), and season with salt and spices. Cover LOOSELY with plastic wrap. (if you haven’t planned ahead, no worries- just season it and let the roast warm up a bit on your counter, about 30-45 minutes).
Preheat oven to 300°F. Add olive oil to large Dutch oven and heat over medium-high until it shimmers across pan (or you can also add a tiny droplet of water, and when you hear it pop, then subside, the oil is hot enough), add pork roast to pan and brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes in all.
Take it out, and let it rest on a plate. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion, carrots and celery, season with a little kosher salt, and sauté until vegetables are just starting to release some liquid—a couple minutes. Add garlic and sauté another minute.
Add about "an inch" of red wine to the pot, and scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the pork to the pot (and any accumulated juices from the plate), with the herbs. The liquid should come up about a third of the way up the pork-- so if it doesn't, add a little more wine or water (just having the liquid come up partway up the pork ensures a concentrated, flavorful sauce). Cover the pot, and put in oven. Turn the roast over every once in awhile. Add more water or wine along the way to maintain the liquid level.
For "sliceable" meat, start checking the meat after a couple of hours-- a knife should be easily inserted.
For "shred-able" meat, start checking after about 3 hours. It should practically fall apart when poked.
For pork ragu and pasta:
1 large can diced tomatoes (check out the sodium content of the tomatoes... they can be quite salty!)
1 cup sliced green olives, such as picholine, lucques or castelvetranos
1 cup raisins
fresh pasta, like homemade pappardelle, perhaps?
freshly-grated parmesan or pecorino
parsley, for garnish
Once pork is to the "shred-able" stage, put it on a cutting board and pull it apart with two forks.
Meanwhile, add tomatoes to the cooking pot, and let the tomatoes simmer for a few minutes with the pork juices and other aromatics. Take an immersion blender and blitz the vegetables, tomatoes and pork juices so it’s all a little bit more “sauce-like”, and adjust any seasonings. You may want to add more water, salt or freshly-chopped herbs, depending. It’s a rustic sauce, so don’t worry about making it perfectly smooth or anything.
Then add the chopped olives and raisins, and the pork back to pot and stir. Heat back up, let simmer again to let the flavors meld a bit and then cook your pasta. Save about ½ cup of the pasta water.
Add the sauce to the pasta. If you need to loosen the sauce a bit, stir some pasta water, a couple tablespoons at a time. Top with lots of freshly-grated parmesan, cracked pepper and fresh herbs.
For pulled pork sandwiches:
Shred the pork with two forks.
Add BBQ sauce (bottled or homemade) to shredded pork, and simmer until sauce is hot.
Set out (homemade brioche?) buns, and (thinly-sliced homemade rhubarb?) pickles, sliced jalapenos, avocado slices-- any garnish you'd like, that will nicely contrast the rich, sweet pork.