January 17, 2014 Leave your thoughts
As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of the problem with supermarket pork is that it’s dry and flavorless; it’s not very appealing to look at, either! The problem is that all of the fed has been bred out of the pigs as a reaction to America’s (false) fear of saturated fat, leaving us with a rather unpleasant final product.
I wasn’t much of a fan of pork when I was younger. Sure, I ate pork chops, but they weren’t exactly my favorite dinner. My dad’s barbecue ribs were a special treat, something I only had a few times every summer. I longed for that juiciness provided by the fat and slow-cooking.
When I initially started my health-food journey, I stayed away from pork almost completely: if it had a lot of fat, I refused to eat it or cook it. Once in a while, I’d roast a pork tenderloin or braise it to make “pulled” pork, but it was a rare occasion. In my (uneducated) eyes, pork was neither appealing nor healthy, so why bother eating it?
One day, I was watching “The Best Thing I Ever Made,” and John Besh was making a whole roasted pork shoulder with garlic and rosemary. As I downed my daily tofu (yes, I used to eat tofu for breakfast), I thought, “Hmm, why not give that a try?” I had never seen a pork shoulder at the supermarket, though, so I went looking online for a butcher in my area. Almost immediately, I stumbled upon Craft Butchery, and decided to go with my dad and visit.
It was an epiphany. When I tasted their pork, I was blown away: was this the same animal I had been eating all of my life?! It was flavorful, tender, and moist, even with the limited seasonings I used. I loved taking a little nibble of the crackling on top and eating cold leftovers for lunch, too. This thus began my love-affair with pork.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve cooked with almost the entire hog. I’ve braised pig cheeks with aromatic vegetables and honey. I’ve roasted a whole ham and made delicious stock with the bone. I’ve slow-cooked shanks and hocks with dried fruit, quickly seared huge chops so they’re brown on the outside and still the slightest pink on the inside. I’ve made spare ribs and pork bellies, scallopinins and loins, sirloin roasts and tails. Out of all of the cuts, though, my favorite is by far the shoulder, otherwise known as the Boston Butt.
A perfect combination of fat and meat, the shoulder is excellent for both braising and slow-roasting. Cut into cubes, it also makes for a wonderful stew meat or base for homemade pork burgers. You can dress it up with fancy spices and herbs all you’d like, but my preferred preparation only requires two ingredients: pork and salt.
You’d have to be a chimpanzee to screw this recipe up. It takes some time but requires almost no effort, and depending on how big your shoulder is, you’ll have leftovers for days. When I know I’ll have a busy afternoon, this is my go-to meat. I usually prepare it with roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes and a sauteed green, but you can serve it with almost anything and it’ll taste incredible.
Your journey to the easiest (and most delicious) pork ever begins the night before your desired eating time.
Place your pork shoulder into a slow cooker. Mine was 3 1/2 pounds, but I’ve made ones as big as 5 pounds before. Use whatever size is best for you and your family.
Next, rub the meat with salt. I used a little more than 2 teaspoons for my pork shoulder, but figure about 1 teaspoon for every 1 1/2 pounds you use. THIS IS NO EXACT SCIENCE. Just make sure the pork is completely rubbed, and use more salt than you think you’ll need. A lot of “healthy” slow-cooker recipes skimp on salt and often wind up having very little flavor. This is because as the meat cooks, it releases a lot of water, and those flavors are diluted by all of the excess liquid. It may sound like salt city, but I promise, it won’t be like eating a bite of the ocean or drinking pure soy sauce.
Put the lid on the slow cooker and put on low for 12 to 16 hours. Again, THIS IS NO EXACT SCIENCE. The bigger the roast, the longer it’ll need. I cooked mine for 14 hours, but I’ve cooked similar-sized pork shoulders for as few as 12 and as many as 16. Your pork is done when it’s very tender and it appears cooked on the outside.
Halfway through the cooking, you can take the pork out of the pot and pour off the accumulated liquid, if you like. This will lead to more of a “crust” on the outside. However, it’s not really necessary, so do it only if you have the time.
When the time has elapsed, your slow-cooker should automatically go to the “warm” setting, at which you can leave the cooked pork roast until dinner time. If you have an older model, make sure you switch it to “warm” or your pork will be sitting at room temperature for HOURS!
When you’re ready to eat, take off the strings of your pork roast (if they had them to begin with) and peel off the fat cap with a knife or tongs. You really don’t want to eat it, so discard it immediately. Shred the remaining pork with two forks and serve immediately.
Before storing your leftovers, I highly recommend straining the remaining pork in a sieve. This will prevent a layer of fat from accumulating at the bottom of the container in the fridge, which is a PAIN to clean.
Looking for some ideas to revamp your leftovers? Here are a few to get you started:
- Pork wraps in big lettuce leaves/nori with slices of avocado, bell pepper, and fresh mango
- Pork hash with sauteed shredded potatoes or another root vegetable
- Pork stirred into cauliflower rice with onions, carrots, garlic, ginger, and coconut aminos/organic tamari
- Pork “sandwiches” on two large sweet potato rounds with spicy greens (arugula or frisee) and homemade barbecue sauce or dijon mustard
What is your favorite cut of pork? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!