Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pork Poll part two

Pork Shoulder was to my surprise the second place vote getter in the ‘favorite cut of pork’ poll. As some of you might know I’m a huge fan of pork shoulder. A quick search of this blogs reveals 6 other posts that include pork shoulder. Most recently I had the guts to suggest replacing the Thanksgiving turkey with pork shoulder! I could go on about pork shoulder the same way Forest Gump went on about shrimp.

Pork shoulder as the name suggests is the upper shoulder portion of the pig from the front leg. Sometimes called a picnic ham because it’s smaller than the traditional hams cut from the back of the pig. This cut might also be called pork butt or Boston butt. It’s ironic that this cut is from the front of the animal, but that really has nothing to do with the name. Around the time of the Revolutionary War Boston was a major butchering city. The way the pork shoulder was cut in Boston became the standard, and was shipped and or cured in barrels called ‘butts’ hence the name.

Pork butts are in my opinion the most versatile cut or pork available. The shoulder can be roasted or braised whole with the bone in or the bone removed and replaced with a stuffing. The meat to fat ratio is perfect for making sausage. The meat can be cubed for stew, city chicken or kebabs. Steaks can be cut from the shoulder but need to be rather thin. The steak cut takes well to being pounded out and breaded. Maybe the most popular preparation is Southern BBQ where the meat is cooked slow and low till it shreds under its own weight, is slathered with a tangy sauce and served with white bread.

When purchasing pork shoulder there is usually a decant price difference between bone in vs. bone out. If you are roasting the whole thing or are cutting the pork into small pieces get the less expensive bone in product. In fact a roasted pork bone makes a good doggy treat. If you want a uniformly round stuff-able roast then get the boneless or if you don’t want to mess with cutting out the bone, the price difference isn’t staggering. In any case try to purchase as large a whole piece as you want to use. I tend to shy away from buying pre-cut, cubed, or strips of meat. The chance for contamination increases with handling and smaller pieces of meat age faster.

This is my favorite preparation of pork shoulder. I’ve had this on a few different menus so I’ve had time to perfect it….

Braised Pork Shoulder

1 pork shoulder, 5 pounds, cut into uniform 3 inch dice

Spice blend consisting of equal parts coriander, cinnamon, mustard powder, ¼ part clove, sugar and salt.

2 large onions and 10 garlic cloves rough chopped
2 quarts chicken stock.

Pre-heat the oven at 500 degrees. Mix the spice blend. For 5 pounds of meat start with ¼ cup or coriander ect… coat the meat with the spice mixture and arrange in a single layer in a roasting pan, or sheet tray (this may or may not be what you finish the braise in.) Cook the meat about 10 minutes at 500 degrees, this sets the spices into the meat and toasts them allowing them to be more fragrant and penetrate the meat. I’ve done this with only tossing the meat with the spice, but it all just washes off in the braise unless you roast it first. Combine the roasted meat, vegetables, and chicken stock in a vessel suitable for braising, cover the meat with water if needed. Reduce the heat to 300, and expect to cook for at least 1 ½ hours.

I like to cut the pork up because I have better control over having a uniformly cooked end product in a realistic amount of cooking time. I’ve also learned that if you cook the meat until it shreds in the braise it is in fact overcooked and will be dry. The trick is to take it out of the oven as soon as one of the larger pieces starts to break apart. I don’t bother with celery or carrots because I don’t think they lend anything with the strong flavor of the spice mix headlining the show. Lastly, recover the braise liquid, degrease it, keep the onions and garlic in it and reduce. A strong whisk or a stick blender makes good work of the vegetables by then and you have the perfect sauce.


amarillo said...

Thanks for the recipe, I am going to try it. How long do you think it will take if I leave the shoulder whole? I like the look of the whole thing.

Michael Walsh said...

amarillo, i wish i had a clear cut answer for you. cooking time depends on the size, as well as weather you have a bone or not. You can use the same recipe, but braise in a slow cooker if you want to give it 4-6 hours.

The roasting temp and time would not change much other than i would suggest letting the spice mix sit on the meat for a while, an hour, maybe overnight if time is not an issue.