Roasted Pork Shoulder Takes Off the Chill of Winter
It’s only February, and it sure feels like winter has been around for a while. For a few weeks we couldn't get the back kitchen door open to let the dog out because the snow was piled so high it just wouldn't budge no matter how much we shoveled. There are mountains of snow out there, making this a winter that feels like the one’s I remember from childhood. When the sun shines the scene outside my window looks pretty spectacular, but there are other times I wonder about this season.
Let’s start with the shoveling. We shovel nice trails through the snow, enough so we can get to our car, the mailbox, and let the poor dog out. And as soon as my back starts to complain, it snows again. Okay, fine. It’s winter in Maine. So we shovel again.
And then there’s the roof. We have a roof rake — one of those crazy, elongated poles with a shovel attached — that we use to remove snow from the rooftop, but we can't seem to keep up with that, either. We stretch that pole out and drag downs enormous loads of snow, look up, and there's more. The worst part is the ice dams that have formed around our skylights. We came home from dinner at a friend’s house last weekend feeling pretty good and there, on the dining room rug, was a big wet patch. We looked at the dog. She looked at us. "What? I didn't do nothing!" And then we heard the rhythmic pattern that every homeowner dreads. Drip, drip, drip. And we saw leak #1. Buckets came out, towels were used for clean up, and we felt a bit better. Next morning we heard a double syncopation. Drip, drip-drip, drip, drip-drip. The leak had traveled to another corner of the room. More buckets. More towels. Long underwear on, big thick gloves, and up on the roof we went to break up the ice. Several hours later, ice dams removed, backs sore, shoulder aching, we thought "Mission Accomplished." Ah, but those drip were not done with us quite yet. Later that night, just as we were about to crawl into bed, the upstairs hallway had a nice groove going. Can you hear it: And a one-two-one-two-three, drip, drip-drip, drip-drip-drip.
This thing called winter. Sometimes it can be tough.
Yesterday the sun came out as if to remind us, those of us who have spent the past few weeks shoveling and roof raking and deconstructing ice dams, that there is beauty in this world. We grabbed the dog and went out for a cross-country ski. The woods were pristine and cutting new trails through all that powder was hard work, but not the same kind of work as clearing ice dams and shoveling. I took a few loops and when the dog looked as exhausted as I felt, I called it quits. When I got back home I emptied out the buckets, now half-full of dripping water, and realized I had a hunger just about as huge as the piles of snow outside our house.
The thing about winter eating is that when hunger hits it can be serious. I didn’t want a salad or a snack; I wanted something full of protein. The truth was I wanted meat.
Last year we bought an organically raised heritage pig and had several “odd” cuts left in the freezer. I thawed the pork shoulder, a gorgeous, well-marbled six pounds of meat, and set it in a simple marinade. Lemon juice, a ton of garlic, sea salt, rosemary, oregano, black pepper. After a good overnight “bath,” I placed the meat in a roasting pan, covered it in a layer of parchment paper and then foil, and let it roast in its own juices. It cooked for almost 3 1/2 hours, but the waiting was well worth it. The pork skin turned a rich, dark mahogany, with a crispy texture that reminded me of the skin on a well-done Peking duck. The meat was fork tender. No need for a knife and the resulting pan juices provided was a heady, garlicky gravy broth. And the smell? Let’s just say it reminded me of that feeling on Thanksgiving Day when you've been waiting and waiting for that turkey and you don't think any food in the world has ever smelled so enticing.
The pork lasted for several days. One amazing dinner, many sandwiches, and then mixed with my own maple BBQ sauce.
Best of all, I think we’re ready for the next snowstorm. Ice dams, stay away!
Slow Oven-Braised Pork Shoulder
There are several reasons pork shoulder is a great choice for winter eating. It tends to be less expensive than other cuts (ask your local farmer or shop around) and it’s naturally well-marbled so it can take long, slow cooking and still come out moist and tender. Plan on marinating the meat for at least five hours or so, or preferably overnight. The next day you will slow roast it and be richly rewarded. Don’t rush the cooking time. It’s all based on letting the natural juices cook slow and mingle with the garlic and citrus of the marinade.
You can serve this rich, tender pork roast with just about anything. Rice and beans and lime wedges would be one direction. Or mashed sweet potatoes, cole slaw, and buttermilk biscuits would be another. Make sure you have plenty of leftovers for sandwiches, or to mix up the leftovers, thinly shredded, with your favorite BBQ sauce. This recipe is loosely based on one from The Gourmet Cookbook, by Ruth Reichl.
10 cloves garlic, peeled
About 1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crumbled
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
A generous grinding of black pepper
1 well-marbled pork shoulder, about 5 to 7 pounds, bone-in with the skin left on
Make the marinade: using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic with 1 tablespoon of the salt until you have a chunky paste. Add the oregano, rosemary, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and black pepper and mix.
Place the meat on a cutting board. Make a long slit separating the skin from the meat, but DON’T cut all the way through the skin. It should still be attached to the shoulder. Lift the skin flap up and spread half the garlic-citrus paste under the skin. Place the skin back onto the meat and place the pork in a large bowl. Spread the remaining paste around the outside of the roast. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours or preferably overnight.
Remove the meat from the marinade and place in a large roasting pan skin side up. Sprinkle the skin with the remaining salt and spoon the garlic from the marinade on top.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the meat with a piece of parchment paper and then tightly seal it with aluminum foil to create a tight seal. Place on the middle shelf and roast for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the parchment and the foil, baste the roast with the juice from the bottom of the pan, and add 1/2 cup water. Roast, uncovered, for another 1 ½ to 2 hours, basting once or twice. Add more water if the bottom of the pan appears dry. The meat is done when it feels fork tender, and the skin is crisp, well browned, and almost crackling. If the skin is not brown enough, remove the skin from the roast. Place the skin on a baking sheet and broil for 5 to 8 minutes, until it is crisp and crackling and very well browned.
To serve, cut the meat into slices (it should, if all goes well, almost fall apart) or use a fork or two and remove slices. Serve hot with the pan juices and thin cubes of the crisp skin. Serves 6 to 8.