Saturday, January 15, 2011

Slow Roasting a Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is among the least expensive cuts of pork, often cooked for the Southern BBQ dish known as Pulled Pork. Recently, one of my pastured meat suppliers (Roffey Cattle Company) had pork shoulders on sale and I bought 2, intending to cube and grind them to add to my venison for sausage.

At the price, I expected bone-in shoulder cuts, but they came boneless and rolled. They looked so good that I decided to try one in a recipe posted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (of The River Cottage Meat Book fame) in the Guardian, for my New Year's Dinner even though the recipe called for a bone-in roast.

HFW says, "This sumptuous dish is based on a recipe by the late Edna Lewis, who specialised in the rib-sticking, soul-feeding dishes of the American South. Brining the pork first, then cooking it slowly before blasting the skin in a hot oven gives you juicy, tender pork, perfect crackling and a rich, savoury sauce - what more could you want for your feast?"

Between starting this process on Dec. 30th, eating it on Jan 1, and now writing about it today, I lost the first two photos due to a computer problem. I know these photos here make the roast look pale and gray, but it was a beautiful crisp, almost caramelized exterior and a pale pink interior... I really need to get a better camera (and learn how to use it)! The photos I lost were of just the raw naked roast, and one in the brine pot. I'm sorry I lost those photos, but the roast was too yummy and fork-tender not to post it anyway!

The recipe calls for brining 24 hours, but my previous experience with brining meats told me to only brine mine for 12 hours based on the smaller weight, lest it become too salty. It was perfect!

Here's the recipe and instructions. His instructions are in italics and my notes and changes are just plain text. I have a kitchen scale that measures in grams, but if you don't, there's a good conversion tool here.

For the brine
40 grams flaky sea salt
per litre (about a quart) of water
60g demerara sugar (brown sugar will suffice, but I happened to have some demerara on hand)
6 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1 tsp white peppercorns
A couple of cloves
1-2 dried chillies or 1 tsp chili flakes
A couple of bay leaves

Note: I added the entire amounts of brine ingredients per quart of water, not just the salt, based on my previous brine experiences. It took 3 quarts of brine to cover my meat, so I had 120g salt (half a cup); 180g sugar (3/4 cup); 18 crushed juniper berries (they are soft and crush with your fingernails unless they are old and dried out), 1 Tbs white peppercorns, 6 cloves, 3 small dried chillies and 6 bay leaves.

Put the ingredients for the brine in a large pan and warm gently over a low heat, stirring, until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from the heat, cool, then chill. Put the pork in a big clean plastic bucket or tub, add brine to cover and leave in a cold place for 24 hours. (Actually, I put the pork in my large stainless soup pot to measure how many quarts of water I needed to cover it completely, and then removed the pork back to the refrigerator while I prepared the brine. I chilled the covered brine in the pot outside in the snow!)

1 bone-in pork shoulder
½ tsp each salt and black pepper
2 tsp thyme leaves, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced lengthways
12 bay leaves
2 onions, peeled and thickly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and quartered lengthways
1 bottle red wine (or port)
A good slug of double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Remove the meat from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Using a small, sharp knife, cut 12 evenly spaced slits into the skin about 2cm wide and 3cm deep. Mix together the salt, pepper and thyme, and spoon a little into each slit, followed by a sliver of garlic and a bay leaf - let the bay stick out a bit so you can remove it easily later. Sprinkle any remaining seasoning over the pork.
(Note: I only inserted the garlic slivers and bay leaf pieces; the salt, pepper and thyme mix was just rubbed into the surface of the pork.

Scatter the onions and carrots in the base of a roasting tin and put the pork on top, skin-side up. Pour in the wine, lay a piece of greaseproof paper over the pork, then seal very tightly with two layers of foil. Cook for four to five hours, until the meat is spoonably tender. Remove from the oven and up the heat to 425ºF. (Mine was small and cooked 3½ hours to reach the safe 160ºF on my meat thermometer.)

Remove and discard the bay leaves, then cut the skin away from the meat, and cover meat to keep warm. Strain the pan juices into a saucepan, pressing on the veg to extract as much liquid as possible. Skim off most of the fat. Slice the skin into thick strips, place on an oven tray and roast until puffed up, crisp and golden, 10-13 minutes.

To make the sauce, simmer the pan juices until reduced by half, stir in the cream and heat through. Roughly carve the meat, and serve with the sauce and crackling on the side.

I browned my roast first, although it was not listed in the recipe... and my pan would only hold about half the bottle of red wine. The recipe called for roasting at 300ºF but I did mine at 275º-280ºF. I also had no skin on my roast to cut off to crisp (after roasting). Nor did I reduce the pan juices or add cream to make a gravy. I preferred it just au jus!

The next day I sliced the remainder of the roast (which was still slightly pink in the center although cooked to 'done'), and reheated the slices in the au jus for dinner. The rest became another dinner and later sandwiches, so this 3 pound (before cooking) roast made 6 generous meals for me.

I must admit this was probably the tastiest and most tender pork roast I have made in years. I will certainly make it again. YUM!


  1. Pork roast are cheap here in the south especially Boston butts. I have cooked them in the crockpot, the oven and the rotisserie. The rotisserie with just nothing on them was the tastiest by FAR! This recipe has a lot of stuff in it. I have never had juniper berries in my house, lol, and I dislike bay leaves greatly.

  2. Becky, I'm growing less fond of bay leaves all the time, ever since I moved where I can no longer grow a bay shrub in my yard.

    Juniper berries were new to me until I started to get some game meats; now I really like how they cut the "gamey" flavor.

  3. Wrap your lips around this. Super easy and deeelish !

    I also made a slow and low pork shoulder roast ( overnight oven) last year. It kept me pickin n grinnin for days.


  4. Your URL leads to a "404" (Not Found) error... Sorry


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