Sunday, March 23, 2014

White Wine and Fennel Braised Pork Shoulder

This particular braise started life as a vernal-equinox-appropriate dish of lamb shanks with fennel, but we had a change of plans when we saw the price difference between lamb shanks and pork shoulder. It was an easy switch because every braise follows the same basic procedure:
  1. Season meat. In most cases it's best to use a simple salt rub.
  2. Sear meat. No shortcuts here--the crust will not only enhance the flavor and texture of the meat, but also flavor the sauce.
  3. Prepare flavorings, in this case roasted vegetables, assorted herbs and spices, and reduced white wine. Most braises include some assortment of vegetables, which are used to flavor the sauce and then discarded. Always cut vegetables for braises into very large pieces to prevent them from dissolving in the sauce and altering its texture.
  4. Combine meat, flavorings, salt, and stock or water and cook at very low temperature in a covered dish.
  5. Let the meat cool completely in the braising liquid so it can reabsorb some of the juices it lost during cooking.
  6. Make a sauce by straining, skimming, reducing, and re-straining the cooking liquid.
  7. Re-sear the meat in a little oil and reheat in a moderately hot oven while basting with stock and a little sauce to glaze.
Everything up through (5) can be done several days in advance. This gives you flexibility with cooking time, a major advantage of braising. Another major advantage is the simplicity with which braising lets you serve glazed meat with its own sauce, usually a pretty involved proposition.

We're not going to lie; this was delicious. The pork was extremely tender yet firm enough to slice, and the sauce was infused with the delicate, balanced flavors of anise, rosemary, coriander, and thyme. Would it have been even better with lamb shanks? Check back on the next vernal equinox to find out.

White Wine and Fennel Braised Pork Shoulder

Cooking Time
If you have to ask, it's not the right day to make this.

6 people

Deep-sided skillet or roasting pan with lid
Heavy-bottomed skillet (can double as the roasting pan if sides are high enough)
Chef's knife
Cutting board
Wooden spoon
Fine mesh strainer

1 boneless pork shoulder (about 4 lbs.)
1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium leek, halved lengthwise and rinsed
1 stalk celery, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 medium yellow onion, quartered lengthwise
3-4 fennel stalks (the top of one bulb), cut into 2-inch lengths
2 sprigs rosemary
7 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 star anise
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups white wine
5 cups chicken stock

1. Rub pork all over with 1/4 cup salt. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 3 hours, or overnight. 

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Sear pork on all sides until deeply browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer meat to a plate and set aside.

3. Pour most of the fat out of the pan, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Return to medium-high heat. Add leek, celery, onion, and fennel stalks and pan-roast, turning occasionally, until deeply browned, about 10 minutes. (The vegetables don't have to be soft all the way through--the color is what you're looking for.) Transfer vegetables to another plate and set aside.

4. Lower heat to medium. Add rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, coriander, star anise, garlic, and butter. Sauté until butter is browned and spices are aromatic, about 1 minute. 

5. Add wine to the spices and raise heat to medium-high. Bring wine to a boil and scrape the browned fond from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Transfer wine mixture to a bowl and set aside.

6. Arrange vegetables on the bottom of a deep-sided skillet or roasting pan (you can use the same skillet as before if the sides are high enough) and place pork on top fat-side up. Add wine mixture, 4 cups chicken stock, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Cover and cook overnight, about 12 hours, at your oven's lowest setting (ours goes down to 170 degrees). Alternatively, cook overnight in a crockpot set on low. The pork is done when you can pull it apart easily with your fingers.

Just out of the oven

6. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Discard vegetables and aromatics. Pour the liquid over the pork and allow to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until 1 hour before serving.

7. Skim congealed fat from liquid and discard. In a saucepan, reduce liquid at a lively simmer over medium-high heat, skimming fat and impurities with a ladle as they rise to the top, until somewhat thickened but not yet gravy-like, about 20 minutes. Taste periodically to make sure sauce doesn't over-reduce and become too salty. Re-strain, cover, and keep warm on the stove at low heat until ready to serve.

8. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high. Pat pork dry with paper towels and add to skillet. Sear on all sides, rotating frequently, until a deep brown crust has built up again, about 6 minutes, being careful not to tear the sides. 

9. Add a ladleful (~1/2 cup) of sauce and remaining 1 cup chicken stock. Transfer to oven and cook, rotating and basting occasionally, until pork is heated through and liquid has reduced to a beautiful glaze, about 20 minutes. Carve into thick slices and serve with sauce on the side.

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