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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 proeoccupied 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:

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  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.