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Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder
By Charlie Burke

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Many of my recipes call for roasting at high temperature, and this works well
with the “better” cuts of meat, which are also the most expensive, such as
tenderloin of beef and rack of lamb. I think I get more satisfaction, and usually
more flavor, from cooking less expensive parts at lower temperature, often in
some kind of braise. Meat which contains higher proportions of connective
tissue becomes very tender when slowly cooked in a moist environment which
permits the tough collagen to break down without drying the meat. Usually, this
requires at least three hours at temperatures between 325 and 350 degrees
Fahrenheit.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with much lower temperatures and longer
cooking times, some as long as twenty four hours, modifying recipes and
guidelines of Paula Wolfort and some found on the internet. . This approach
was proposed in the 1940’s by Adelle Davis, who, according to Paula Wolfort in
her book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen* was a food authority in the middle
of the last century. She advocated cooking the meat at the same temperature as
that of the meat when done. She noted that little shrinkage occurred, the meat
was incredibly tender, and the flavor more intense than in any conventionally
prepared recipe.

Unfortunately, this approach keeps the meat in the “danger zone” of forty to one
hundred and forty degrees where bacteria thrive, so modification is necessary.
The National Restaurant Association suggests starting with high temperature to
sterilize the meat if roasting at temperatures below 325 degrees. The oven
temperature is then lowered; the roast then cooks very slowly, becoming
remarkably tender and maximizing the flavor of the herbs and aromatics in the
sauce. As the temperature approaches the serving temperature, I lower the oven
to that temperature or slightly higher. Once the serving temperature is reached,
the pork can stay in a 160 - 170 degree oven for several more hours, so timing is
very flexible.

USDA inspected pork is a safe product, no longer requiring cooking to high
internal temperature, and can safely be served pink  If you have concerns,
however, freezing the pork for a few weeks or buying certified pork (previously
frozen) provides further safety. Meat cooked at low temperature should not be
stuffed, and I do not yet use this technique for poultry. This technique also
works with leaner cuts which are not appropriate for braising for shorter
periods. If you have ever wondered why the roast beef at the deli counter is
pink nearly to the surface, the answer is that it is cooked at low temperature,
avoiding both shrinkage and the overcooking of the exterior meat.

Pork shoulder with the skin on remains as
moist as any braise when roasted at low
temperature. Liquid in the roasting pan
maintains humidity in the over, while
picking up meat flavors dripping from
the meat. Herbs rubbed into the meat richly
flavor the roast over the long cooking time,
reminding me of the wonderful porchetta
served in northern Italy from a whole pig
flavored with herbs and cooked on a spit.
My next attempt will be a mock porchetta,
using rue and other herbs typical of Tuscany and the Piemonte.

Serves 8:

7-8 pound bone in pork shoulder or “Butt” with skin on
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram or 1 tablespoon dry
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ tablespoon dry
2 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary or 1 tablespoon dry
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 ½ tablespoons coarse kosher or sea salt
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk with leaves, chopped
1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
Chicken stock or water, sufficient to cover bottom of roasting pan by ¾ inch

The day before serving, wash the pork roast under running water and pat dry
with paper towels. Use a mortar and pestle or blender to grind herbs, garlic, salt
and pepper into a paste. Mix the paste into the olive oil. With a sharp knife,
score the skin and fat down to the surface of the pork. Make slices ¾ inch apart,
then score across the slices at a 45 degree angle. Rub herb paste into the scores
and over all surfaces; most of the paste should be trapped in the scored skin and
fat. Let roast stand at room temperature for 2 hours.

Put chopped vegetables, wine and water or stock into a roasting pan, place pork
skin side up on a roasting rack and place into a preheated 450 degree oven for
45 minutes or until the skin is browned and the fat is bubbling. Reduce the heat
to 200 degrees and cook for 4-5 hours. Reduce heat to 175 and cook until
temperature of the meat reads 170 degrees (12 – 14 hours). Keep the roast in the
oven until shortly before serving.

Place the roast on a platter or cutting board and cover with aluminum foil and a
dish towel. Add ½ cup of white wine, bourbon or dry sherry to the roasting
liquid and boil until alcohol has evaporated and the liquid coats a spoon. Strain
the liquid into a bowl, pressing the vegetables with a wooden spoon. Correct the
seasoning of the liquid, adding a squeeze of lemon juice if needed to brighten
the flavor.

Slice the pork across the grain into ½ inch slices, drizzle with some of the liquid
and pass the remainder in a gravy boat.

We found that this was the most tender pork we have had, and there is no doubt
that the long cooking time permeated the meat with intense flavor, which is
heightened by the pan juices. With cold weather approaching, try this recipe on
a weekend - a great way to slow down from the busy week.

*Published in 2003 by John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ  

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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