Pork braise for a snowy Vancouver day
It is deceptively cold outside. This teasing sunshine and bitter frostiness is not cutting it in my book, and I almost want to run into a pile of blankets and hibernate until June.
One of my favourite ways to warm up with food is with a hearty stew, curry, or a braised dish. I was daydreaming about a pork recipe from back in culinary school when my man played a fantastic video of a similar dish being made by The River Cafe, and that settled it. Wintry refuge was to be found in curdled milk, and meat that was so tender it fell apart.
This recipe is simple comfort food and, in terms of ingredients, things are played fast and loose. It's easy to be very general with this recipe; throwing things in until they look, smell, and taste right. When swaddled in a pile of blankets and four pairs of socks, I can't be bothered to measure things precisely.
Note that in the pictures a casserole is used. That's because I wanted to play with a new toy and see if the recipe turned out well in the oven (this was also made on the stove, which is much simpler). It can be done as long as the oven is preheated at about 275°F, and the contents of the pan are either already in an oven-friendly skillet, or are transferred to a snug oven dish with a lid or a foil covering that is not touching the food.
Eff You, Winter! Braised Pork
Adapted from Northwest Culinary Academy and The River Cafe
Serves 4 to 8
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 4 Hours
1 pork shoulder roast, the size of your head
zest of 2 lemons, cut widely with a paring knife or veg peeler (remove the pith!)
a handful of sage leaves
a little chopped rosemary, if you like
a few cloves of garlic, bashed with the heel of your knife
1 liter of milk (no lower than 2%, can also be a mix of milk and cream for more curds)
salt and pepper
Cut the pork into large chunks. There should be a lot of marbling, but cut off any large pieces of excess fat. Season generously with salt and pepper, and sear on all sides over medium-high heat until caramelized, in batches if necessary.
When the pork is done, toss the aromatics into the pan. Stir them around after about a minute, then add the milk/cream to deglaze the pan. Bring it to a simmer, then cover everything with a large circle cut from parchment paper and put a lid on it, with just under an inch of open space across the top.
Reduce the heat to minimum, and then find some way to distract yourself for at least three hours. Four would be better. Turn the pork over now and then. I did this once an hour or so. Also, check on the liquid levels at the same time. You want a sauce that is flavoured from the meat and aromatics, with rich, creamy coagulated bits of fat and milk solids from the dairy. It tastes a lot better than it sounds.
Finally, check for sufficient seasoning. Add salt or pepper if needed, and serve with anything you like: Pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, whatever makes you cozy enough to forget that an abominable snowman may or may not be digging through your trash cans.
Tip: Throw in a handful of pearl onions in the beginning, or some little nugget potatoes an hour before the dish is ready, to soak up the flavour.