Tuesday, March 3

Kick Ass Smokey Pork Shoulder, Made Inside on a Rainy Day

In these days of wintery wet days (at least in my corner of the world) as well as a rapidly shrinking meat budget, doing pork shoulder inside has become more than wishful thinking: it's become an anti-downturn salve to the soul.

The Why of Pork Shoulder
Pork shoulder is relatively inexpensive, very flavorful, and blissfully simple to make. The only problem with doing inside, in fact, is that I'm in love with that smokey charcoal flavor I get by grilling it outside. But since it's been raining for days on end, I was driven to alternate means, and it turned out pretty well. Here's what I came up:

The How
Buy a 2-pound pork shoulder and season liberally with salt and pepper. Next, find a heavy, oven-safe high-sided pot-with-lid that will provide a pretty tight fit for your pork. Add a little flavorless, heat resistant oil like grapeseed or highly refined canola.

Next, crank your stovetop to medium high and wait until the pot is fully energized. Once up to searing-temp, induce a nice rich brown on all six sides (if the piece you have is cube-shaped enough to be able to do all six). Return it to a rimmed plate or shallow bowl.

Let it cool quietly on some desolated part of your kitchen counter where it will be undisturbed as you prepare for the next phase: the rub!

Here's the Rub
While the shoulder loses energy, make the spice blend. I put all of this into shallow bowl that allows me to mix the spices and also coat the pork.

1 tablespoon of ground, smoked paprika,
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of ground tumeric
1 teaspoon of ground cumin.
Several grinds of black pepper
Ground cayenne to taste (I like about 1/4 tsp)

Optionally, you can add coriander and crushed garlic.

Rubbed the Right Way
The rub is where you can tinker as much or as little as you like, but make sure you've got at minimum the salt and smoked paprika if you want to replicate some of that grilled, smokiness. Granted, it's not really going to taste grilled (though you could experiment with liquid smoke), but it will have a smokey depth that I personally love, and the red color doesn't hurt.

Get the rub together, and once the meat has cooled enough to handle, coat it thoroughly on all sides. If you have trouble with the rub adhering, coat your pork with a tiny bit more flavorless oil.

Re-Pot and Fire It Up
Now comes the tricky part. Return the pork to the tighly fitting pot you used to do the sear and cover the meat with enough tinfoil to create a pretty tight seal over the pork, making sure to fill up the gaps around the meat as much as possible. You're looking for a dome of foil that leaves as little airspace as you can around the pork. These close quarters will allow steam from the pork to remain in close proximity to the pork and assist with the braising process. You may think I'm just making this up, but for real, Madeleine Kamman taught me this trick and it really works!

Next, cover the pot with it's oven-safe lid (on top of the tinfoil, which will be lower down in the pot) and put the entire contraption in a slow oven (about 325 degrees) for 1.5 hours. Once the initial time is up, flip the shoulder, replace the foil, and go again for another hour. The flipping, while a pain, ensures that one side doesn't dry out. Don't fiddle with the meat during the flip...just flip, recover with foil and the lid and return to the oven as fast as possible.

Once the hour is up, check out your pork and see how 'falling apart' it has actually gotten. If the texture isn't right, keep cooking until it is.

The Shredder or Whatever...
Once you pull it out of the oven, let it rest and cool for a while, transfer the meat to a plate and shred it or prep it in whatever way makes sense for what you're doing (I use it to add to bean dishes or for burritos or just on it's own with some sauteed vegetables, so shredding is usually what I do.)

You'll notice that there's a lot of nicely flavored and beautifully colored liquid left in the pot, along with a huge layer of fat. Degrease as best you can and return as much of the remaining liquid to the meat without drowning it...there's a lot of tasty gelatin and spices in there, so don't waste it!

That's it! Since this recipe requires some tending, it's a perfect one for a quiet afternoon at home on a rainy day. Personally, I like to run a couple of old movies in the background, make some rice and beans and do this pork shoulder. But you could also break this recipe up into phases and cut down your stay at home time, though I never recommend leaving an oven untended.