Pork shoulder. Pork butt. Boston butt. Pork shoulder picnic. Confused? Most people are, and I was until recently–like Christmas. The mission was to make pernil, a slow-roasted pork staple that is a traditional meal in Ecuador for Christmas. When I was shopping for that meal, I found the pork butt I needed, slow roasted it for a few hours and voilà, dinner was delicious. I was shopping myself, in the store, at the last minute, and found it.
Last week, I was food shopping online. There were no pork butts available, there was only a pork shoulder picnic. A few pounds more, and not the right cut, but I was at work and told the personal shopper at ShopRite from Home that this piece of meat would be fine. While twice the size of what I anticipated, I knew I could make it work with the right base recipe. I also knew that a large (8-pound) bone-in pork shoulder would feed a family of five for more than one night, and take almost no maintenance while cooking for several hours. In short, it was the perfect meal for a weekend when I knew dinner would be cooking through basketball games and I didn’t have to be involved. Kind of like slow cooking, but with fall-off-the-bone meat on the inside and a crispy skin on the outside. Not heart-healthy, but crispy and tasty nonetheless.
I turned to one of my staples in my America’s Test Kitchen library: The Cooks Illustrated Meat Book. Yes, there is an entire cookbook dedicated to meat and it’s delicious. Not the book–the recipes. There are several recipes that involve a pork butt (bone-in and boneless) but not many for a pork shoulder. I needed the weight, temperature and maybe a brine if I remembered to do that before roasting, which I usually forget to do. I actually used the same one I used for the Christmas pernil, which I didn’t brine, and this time I did brine it and matched the cooking time for the weight of this roast, not my much smaller 4 lb. Christmas roast. The recipe (Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Sauce) which actually calls for a pork butt, not a shoulder, was perfect for a guideline. The rest, I figured out as I went and I see enchiladas or pork tacos in the future for the leftovers. As a general note, this is one of those perfect meals for making on a weekend with enough left over for another meal during the week, making those hectic weeknight dinners healthy and a little easier.
Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder With Cranberry Sauce
1 8-pound bone-in pork shoulder
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 bag of fresh cranberries
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 rosemary sprig
Juice from 1 lime
What’s Next The Night Before:
Combine kosher salt and sugar in a small bowl.
With the fat side of the roast facing up, cut cross-hatch lines in the top layer of fat.
Rub salt and sugar mixture all over the roast, and be sure to get some in between those cross-hatch lines in the top. It should look almost like the diamond shaped usually seen in a roast ham.
Wrap the pork in plastic wrap and let it site overnight in the refrigerator.
The Day of Cooking:
Unwrap pork, and place in a 9×13 baking dish.
Cook in a 325 degree oven (I used the convection setting and it really makes a difference) for 5 1/2 to 6 hours. When a meat thermometer is inserted into it, the temperature should be at least 170 degrees, but mine registered about 190. I knew it was done.
Remove roast from oven and let rest in the pan. Start cranberry sauce.
Place cranberries,1/4 cup water, orange juice, sugar, rosemary sprig and lime juice in a saucepan.
Cook on medium heat for about 40 minutes; until berries have burst and sauce has started to thicken. Mash berries that have not popped, stir, and remove rosemary sprigs. Some leaves will still be in there, but that’s ok.
When serving the pork, it will be fall-off-the-bone tender. I found the easiest way to work with the meat was not to try to slice it like a traditional roast, nor to pull it apart with two forks. There is actually a lot of fat which is great for flavor and tenderness, but not so good for the heart, so when the roast was cool enough, I pulled the meat from the bone with my hands and continued to pull large pieces apart from the fat. Add a spoonful of the cranberry sauce to the meat and dinner is done with very little time at the stove.
I served this with white rice, but I think cornbread would also be an excellent compliment.
Notes From My Experience:
While brining meat has its purpose, if you forget don’t worry about it. Keep the lines in the top layer of fat, and season with salt, pepper, and any other favorite spices.
I love the fact that rosemary is one of herbs that survives winter. It gives such a fresh taste to the sauce, and is so easy to cut from my small herb garden.
This meal was incredibly easy and my kids loved it. Truly a great way to make your house smell wonderful all day as winter sets in.
I think roasted root vegetables would be a great accompaniment to the meat and sauce.