There are a lot of benefits to buying a large cut of meat, even if you’re a family of two like we are. You may pay what seems like a lot at the start, but if you’ve got a few hours to spend on the initial prep and cooking, and you don’t mind remixing leftovers, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.
Our latest big meat cycle was based on a bone-in pork shoulder. We brought home a piece from the folks at Stoney Hill Cattle on Saturday (weighing in at a little under 5 lbs, at a cost of about $23), and on Sunday I cooked it up. One of my favorite ways to cook pork shoulder is in a rich, chile-spiced broth, and that’s just what I did this time.
I set our biggest enameled cast iron pot over pretty high heat and added about two tablespoons of rendered pork fat (lard, fatback, even leftover bacon grease will work here). When the fat was sizzling, I placed the pork shoulder, which I had seasoned all over with kosher salt, into the pot and let it get really brown on the first side. When it had developed a good crust, I flipped it, repeating the process until all sides of the meat were browned.
I removed the meat and set it aside, reducing the heat to medium and adding about two cups of thinly sliced onion and a good pinch of kosher salt. I cooked the onion until soft, then added my spices to toast them – about 2 teaspoons each of Mexican oregano and ground cumin, and a tablespoon of our house chile powder. I let them go a minute or two before adding an ounce of sherry vinegar (stand back from the pot and don’t inhale when you add it!), two cups of tomato puree (I used the liquid left over from various cans of whole peeled San Marzanos which I had been saving in a container in the fridge), and a cup of water. I let this simmer on the stovetop briefly, being sure to scrape up all of the brown porky bits from the bottom of the pot as I stirred, then I added the pork shoulder back to the pot and lidded it up.
This went into a 300 degree oven for two hours, at which time the meat was separating from the bone and the internal temperature was just under 160. At this point I turned the heat off and left the covered pot in the oven for an additional hour because I wasn’t ready for it yet, but you could, after giving the meat a brief rest, just slice or chunk it up and serve it. This is exactly how we start many of our pork shoulder cycles, but this time I had other plans.
I separated about 1/3 of the meat from the shoulder, cut it into small chunks, and browned the bits in a little more melted pork fat until they were crispy. I tossed the pieces with a small amount of the braising liquid and served these carnitas in warm tortillas, dressed with queso fresco, salsa, shredded cabbage, sliced radish, fresh cilantro and plenty of freshly squeezed lime juice. We ended up with enough for dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day – and we still had more pork shoulder to go.
My plan for meal two was to do something similar to pulled pork. I cut most of the rest of the meat from the bone (about 3-4 cups, chunked), placed it in a heavy-bottomed pot and added 3 cups of the reserved liquid from the initial braise. I let this cook until the meat was very soft, removed the chunks from the liquid, and tore it into shreds with two forks. I returned the meat to the pot, added an ounce of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar, but cider vinegar would work well here too), and continued cooking the pork over low heat until the meat was meltingly soft and the liquid reduced to a saucy glaze.
We piled the pork onto small soft brioche rolls with sliced homemade pickles, and served additional pickles, a quick cabbage/fennel/carrot slaw, and oven fries on the side. There’s shreddy pork left over for Mike’s lunch today, and the remainder of the shoulder – the bone and meaty bits still clinging to it – will be the base for a hearty bean soup in the near future. The 23 bucks we spent on that shoulder seems like a flat-out bargain now.