Recipe for Shoulder or Butt

Braised Pork Shoulder [or Butt] with Garlic and Thyme

In early spring a few years ago, at the peak of cold, gray mud season, Amanda Hesser of the New York Times visited our farm. We were very nervous about her visit—have you ever cooked dinner for a famous food writer? We were so preoccupied with cooking a meal and the conversation that we weren’t prepared for her departure. As she was climbing into her car, it dawned on us that we should give her some pork to cook for herself back in the city. Almost everything was in cold storage at the butcher’s, but Mike rooted through our home’s overloaded chest freezer and came up with two packages of frozen shoulder. He handed them to Amanda through the car window. She must have liked the shoulder, as this is the recipe that accompanied Amanda’s article published on May 4, 2003:

1 piece of pork shoulder, bone in, 3 ½ pounds [or 4 lbs. boneless butt]
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 large garlic cloves, skin left on and lightly crushed
2 carrots, unpeeled, diced
1 leek, rinsed and diced
1 3-inch piece celery, diced
7 sprigs thyme
2 small sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs parsley plus extra, chopped, for serving
1 small bay leaf
4 juniper berries (optional)
½ cup red wine, plus a splash to finish

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat an enamel-lined Dutch oven or casserole over medium high heat until hot. Season the pork generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Lay the pork fat-side down in the casserole and brown it well, adjusting the heat so it doesn’t scorch. Turn the pork with tongs and brown all sides.

2. Remove the pork to a plate and pour off the fat from the casserole. Add the garlic, carrots, leek, celery, herbs and juniper berries. Sauté over medium heat until vegetables are browned on the edges and soft. Pour in the wine and scrape up the pan drippings. Lay the pork on top of the vegetables and add enough water to cover just 1/3 of the pork (about 2 cups). Cover the pan with heavy duty foil and then the lid and put it in the oven. Braise the pork until it is very tender and falling from the bone, about 2 ½ hours, turning the meat every half-hour (keep it on top of the vegetables) basting it with the juices.

3. When the pork is done, let it sit for 20 minutes or so (or even better, serve it the next day), then slice (it will probably fall apart more than slice) and arrange on a platter. Strain the pan juices through a sieve into a saucepan, pressing on the solids to extract all the juices. Pour off the fat, add a splash of wine, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Heat to boiling and pour over the pork. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Yield: 4 servings with leftovers

Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder [or butt] with Caramelized Onions

This recipe is adapted from one that appeared in the December 2001 issue of Gourmet. It is very simple and very delicious. We serve it with mashed potatoes and spinach.

1 3–4 lb. pork bone-in shoulder or boneless butt
2 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ lbs. onions (5 or 6 medium onions), sliced
1–1 ¼ cups apple cider
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Make slits all over the pork with a sharp, small knife. Insert a garlic sliver into each slit. Pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a 4–5 quart ovenproof heavy pot or Dutch oven over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Brown meat on all sides, using tongs to turn the meat. Remove pork from the pot and put on a plate.

Add onions to the pot and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to turn brown (about 5 minutes). Add ¾ teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and caramelized, about 8–10 minutes more.

Stir in cider and bring to a boil. Then reduce to simmer. At this point, you can either return the pork to the pot, cover pot with lid, and place pot in the oven—or you can transfer the onion-cider mixture with the pork to a crock pot, set on low. Either way, you will need to cook the pork until it is very tender, about 2 ½–3 hours. If you are using a bone-in cut, it should be pulling away from the bone quite easily. The internal temperature should be 160 degrees, but it will probably be much higher. Don’t worry—it is difficult to overcook this cut.

Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest for 8 or 10 minutes. While it rests, boil juices remaining in the pot on the stove until mixture is reduced to no more than 2 cups. (If you have used a crock pot, transfer the juices to a large skillet and boil). Add salt and pepper if necessary.

Slice the pork (it will fall apart in chunks more than it will slice) and serve with some of the sauce.

This pork can be made a day or two in advance and reheated.