Beer-braised pork shoulder

010d1a6ff0aae3d8680ae5f1ba5be9f3d8c33c4efcAfter a long, gloomy week that saw the people of Arkansas wondering if we’d ever see the sun again, we finally got a clear day — and even better, it was a Saturday. It had been some time since I trekked up to the Hillcrest Farmers Market, mostly because cold, cloudy weather brings me down to the point where I just want to stay inside under a blanket, preferably with a cat curled up next to me.

But this past Saturday was a perfect day for getting out and about. Sure, it was still a pretty cold morning, but with the sun out, I felt rather invigorated, and so I made my way up to the market at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church to see what I could see. As luck would have it, Freckle Face Farm was set up and ready to go with some bone-in pork shoulder cuts that I just couldn’t pass up. I’ve sung the praises of Freckle Face’s pork before, and since it had been awhile since I cooked up some really high quality local meat, I grabbed a two pound package to make for Sunday dinner. Now, a lot of folks use shoulder for pulled pork, and that’s certainly a wonderful thing to do; however, I lack a smoker, and pulled pork that hasn’t been smoked would have just been a crime against this particular cut of pork — so I decided to braise it in some beer, pot roast style.

Beer-braised pork shoulder

  • 01d53a8ffaf6746d210cd0137e577186d73bbe27812-4 pounds of pork shoulder. The particular cut I used was right at 2 pounds, and still had the bone in. In this day and age, most of our meat comes to us completely boneless, but I prefer to cook my meat bone-in whenever possible. The bone provides some nice collagen to your pan juices, giving them a more velvety texture — not to mention the marrow adds flavor like you wouldn’t believe.
  • 3 tablespoons oil, shortening, or lard for searing
  • 1-2 bottles of beer. Use a malty, low-hop beer. Abita Amber is fantastic for this purpose, as is Diamond Bear’s Irish Red. In a pinch, using a cheap mass-produced lager like Pabst Blue Ribbon is just fine, too. Save the IPAs for drinking, though — they’ll make your braising liquid too bitter.
  • 4 cups chicken stock. Store bought is fine, homemade is better.
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 2-3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Take your pork and pat it dry with a paper towel. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet until almost smoking, then sear the shoulder on both sides until you get a nice, dark crust (going heavy on the pepper makes this crust even better). Transfer the seared pork to a dutch oven and pour in one bottle of the beer and 3 cups of the chicken stock. Add the onions, garlic, carrots, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover with a lid and cook in a 350 degree oven for 2-3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender. Check the pot periodically to make sure there’s still enough liquid to keep the meat almost covered; add the reserved chicken stock and a splash of the extra beer if needed (go ahead and drink that other beer if not needed).

Once the meat is pretty tender, I like to remove it to a platter and strain all the vegetables and herbs from the braising liquid, reserving the liquid and tossing the veggies. Place the meat back into the dutch oven, then pour the braising liquid back in, and add potatoes and fresh carrots for a one-pot meal. You can eat those old vegetables, but most of their flavor has already been transferred to the liquid; adding fresh vegetables and cooking until they are tender will give you much brighter flavors.

I served my roast tonight with some honey-ginger glazed carrots and a fresh spinach and herb salad — I was lucky to come across some early spring carrots and spinach from Willow Springs Market Garden after I got the pork, and man were those fresh veggies good. The result was a meal that was almost entirely local, and quite entirely delicious. Happy cooking!

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Linguine with pink sauce

photo 1(8)It’s a cold night tonight, and even the cat is hungry for some comfort food. In her case, it was a bite of triple cream brie (she’s fond of dairy); in our case, it was a big bowl of pasta. I wasn’t in the mood for marinara or Alfredo, and instead opted to go for a kind of hybrid: tomato cream sauce. This is a rich, decadent sauce that clings well to noodles and imparts a tangy, buttery flavor to every bite. It’s also a lovely shade of orange-pink, something that makes it just as attractive to look at as it is delicious to eat. This is one of those dishes that tastes like it’s much harder to make than it is, perfect for impressing that someone special in your life. Unless that someone is my cat: she just wants brie.

Pink sauce

  • photo 2(10)One large can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes with juice. In a pinch, you can use crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, but don’t use canned tomato sauce.
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in half along the equator
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (don’t cheap out; use something like Plugra; 1 stick’s worth is about half a package)
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and red pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Place your onion halves face down in the butter and let them hang out for a bit, just until they start getting really fragrant. Add the minced garlic and cook for two minutes. Add your crushed tomatoes to the pot, and gently stir so that the onion halves are surrounded; add a pinch of salt and the wine. Allow this mixture to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you like a chunky sauce, remove the onion halves and discard — your tomatoes are done.

For this version, we wanted a smooth sauce, so we removed the onions and let our sauce cool for a few minutes, then ran it through the blender. This does something else nice in addition to breaking up the chunks: it emulsifies the butter into the sauce, something your taste buds will thank you for. Once the sauce is smooth (or if you kept it chunky, pick up here) stir in the heavy cream and bring the pot back to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes until thickened, stirring regularly. Stir in a dash of red pepper and some more salt (if needed) and serve. This ain’t diet food by any means, but my goodness is it good. Enjoy!

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