Marcella Hazan, in her seminal Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, wrote that of the thousands of recorded dishes that could illustrate the genius of a cuisine, Pork Braised in Milk would certainly be among the favoured few. Her recipe is exceedingly simple - start with a pork loin roast (bone included), brown it well in some oil, add around 2 cups milk, and simmer over low heat for several hours until tender. She also notes that, if we have access to it, and are not averse to the fact that it might fall apart in whilst carving, pork butt, or Boston shoulder, laced with a goodly amount of fat - is preferrable, but perhaps won't be as pretty on a plate.I am a full proponent of and ascribe to the pork butt camp; it's my preferred cut of pork (well, just shy of belly).
I did opt for a slightly more complex recipe, however - Staffan Terje's Milk Braised Marin Sun Pork Shoulder, and adapted it even further. I first tasted this dish when DD and I visited Perbacco many moons ago - I was actually a bit surprised to see so rustic a dish on a fine dining restaurant menu, but when it arrived, (yes, it didn't look that pretty on the plate either,) it was so freaking delicious.
I found this beautiful pork shoulder at Falletti Foods. It was, however, a full five(!) pounds. I was hesitant to break up such a gorgeous piece of meat, and took it in its entirety. More leftovers for us. This is cooking for the week after all. In contrast to Hazan's recipe, Chef Terje's calls for the addition of aromatics: fennel, onion, garlic. I also added some chopped up carrots for a better coloured sauce.
Addition of wine is also distinct in Chef Terje's recipe. I chose instead to use an unfiltered hard cider - this was a delicious drink, tasting fully of natural, sweet apples, as if the brewers had just pressed them and left them to ferment, adding little except some wild honey.
Here's a shot of the entire pot just before I placed it into the oven. The pork's been browned well, the aromatics, wine and milk surround it nicely, and the oven's heated to a nice, mellow 325 degrees.
Here's a shot of what the pork looked like after 3.5 hours of braising in the oven. This is a fairly forgiving dish as my oven temperature (though greatly improved by our recent installation of a pizza stone), tended to fluctuate between 325 and 350, depending on my opening of the oven to take peeks and stir stuff around. I also added some Capay Farms Nantes carrots at this time, since I didn't want them to have turned to mush by the end. (I was shooting for a 4-hour total cooking time.)
And there you have it. Chef Terje's full recipe provides for a simple sautee of savoy cabbage with butter and polenta. I also chose to serve the pork over polenta for one night's dinner; for another I cooked up some buttered whole wheat couscous, and added in some quickly-blanched sugar snap and shelled English peas, dressed lightly with some olive oil, salt and vinegar.
- 5 pounds bone-out pork shoulder
- 2 onions diced
- 2 small fennel bulbs diced; fronds/stems may be included and left as-is
- 8 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 quart whole milk
- 2 cups Crispin Hard Apple Cider (with organic honey)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bunch Nantes carrots (optional)
- Preheat oven to 325ºF .
- If you have time, salt and pepper the pork shoulder and let it sit for about an hour.
- With a little olive oil, brown the pork in your braising pot of choice (I used an 8.5-quart Dutch oven), making sure it's browned well on all sides - I usually use the benchmark of 4-5 minutes per side. (Such a large cut required some maneuvering. Tongs came in handy here.)
- Remove the pork from the pot and set aside.
- In the remaining oil and drippings Add diced fennel, onion, garlic and bay leaves to the same braising pot and lightly brown. Add more olive oil if the pot seems a bit dry.
- Place pork back into the braising pot on top of the vegetables, add milk and cider. I also nestled the fennel stems next to the pork (these were not sauteed in the beginning).
- Cover with a lid and place in the oven to braise for 2.5 to 3-4 hours, or until very tender.
- About 1/2 hour before the end of cooking, add in the Nantes carrots if using.
- When the pork is done, remove it from the pot and cover with foil to keep warm. If you've used whole Nantes carrots, remove these as well. Also fish out the now-stringy fennel fronds from the sauce.
- Using a hand-held blender stick, directly puree the vegetables and braising liquid in the pot, creating a thickened sauce for the pork. The carrots and caramelised milk curds will also impart a nice blonde-ish colour. There will be a lot more sauce in this recipe than Marcella Hazan's reduced milk curds.
- Slice the pork and serve with the starch and vegetable of your choice.
Chef Terje's recipe called for a 2-2/5 lb pork shoulder; mine came out to be 5 lbs. I therefore had to adjust the seasonings and cooking time to address this double weight. There were no issues in taste - I had guesstimated extra amounts of cider and aromatics to my liking. I ended up cooking the pork for 4 hours, but in retrospect I should have perhaps stopped at 3 or 3.5 hours. As it turned out, we were not able to eat the dish right after it finished cooking; we started on it the next day. By then, the pork had hardened with cold and I was able to slice the meat easily and very uniformly. Once heated however, the pork definitely was fall-apart tender and I wonder whether I would have been able to slice it so evenly right out of the pot.
Again, not pretty, but definitely very tasty.