AN UNLIKELY ROAST REQUIRES TIME BUT LITTLE EFFORT
It’s been almost 30 years since the National Pork Producers Council launched a campaign to persuade poultry-loving Americans to eat more pig—specifically the lean “other white meat” between the pig’s shoulder and leg, known as the loin. This promotion coincided with the introduction of slimmer pigs. Ever since, consumers have been flocking to butcher cases to buy up the center-cut loin and then heading home to try everything under the sun to improve the almost-fat-free meat’s bland flavor and stringy chew.
News flash: Pork is not white meat. And that’s a good thing. Also, pork is supposed to have some fat. And that’s a really good thing. To experience the glories of old-fashioned roast pork, you have to buy a cut with some fat—and some flavor.
Our favorite choice for roasting is the pork butt. This shoulder roast packs plenty of intramuscular fat that melts and bastes the meat during cooking. It also boasts a thick fat cap that renders to a bronze, baconlike crust. And it’s cheap—$15 buys a roast that can feed a crowd.
Now, there’s just one problem. You need to forget everything you know about roasting pork, starting with the desired internal temperature. A loin is best cooked to 145 degrees. But a shoulder roast is the same cut used to make pulled pork, so it must cook well past well-done in order to render the fat and convert the collagen to gelatin. But don’t worry; roasting (unlike barbecuing) is dead simple. All you need is some patience as the enticing aroma of pork fills the kitchen for hours. Your wait will be rewarded with the best roast pork of your life.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Use Bone-In Pork Butt
We prefer bone-in for two reasons: First, the bone acts as an insulator against heat. This means that the meat surrounding it stays cooler and the roast cooks at a slower, gentler pace. Second, bones have a large percentage of the meat’s connective tissue attached to them, which eventually breaks down to gelatin and helps the roast retain moisture.
Here’s the Rub
Using a salt rub on meat is a common technique to improve flavor and texture. Salt penetrates deep beneath the surface of a tough roast, seasoning it throughout and helping to break down its proteins. But for our pork roast, we wanted an exceptionally crisp crust. In Chinese barbecue, the pork is heavily seasoned with equal parts salt and sugar to encourage an ultracrisp crust that veers toward candied bacon. Following suit, we rub our roast with a mixture of salt and brown sugar (scoring the fat cap first to help the rub stick and encourage the fat to render) and then let it rest overnight.
Cooking the pork slowly (at 325 degrees for 5 to 6 hours) pushes the meat well beyond its “done” mark into the 190-degree range. In lean cuts, this would result in an incredibly dry piece of meat. But because there is so much collagen and fat in this roast, the high internal temperature encourages intramuscular fat to melt, collagen to break down and tenderize the meat, and the fat cap to render and crisp.
V-Rack to the Rescue
If you cook the pork directly in the pan, the dark layer of drippings burn (thanks to its high sugar content). A V-rack and a quart of water poured into the bottom of the pan prevent this problem. Because the roast is perched higher up, its fat drips down and mixes with the water to create a significant amount of flavorful jus.
Five hours in the oven transforms a salt and brown sugar rub into a crackling-like crust.
Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Sauce
SERVES 8 TO 12
- 12 to 24 hours to score and salt roast
- 5 to 6 hours to roast pork
- 1 hour to rest roast (prepare sauce while roast is resting)
- Sharp paring knife to score roast and remove bone
- Rimmed baking sheet to hold roast in fridge
- Roasting pan with V-rack to roast pork
- Fat separator
Substitutions & Variations
- Pork butt roast is also called Boston shoulder, pork butt, or Boston-style butt. Do not confuse this cut with arm shoulder or picnic shoulder roast.
- Like most pork roasts, this one works well with a sweet sauce. To balance the richness of this cut, we especially like the acidity of fruit-based sauces or chutneys.
Add more water to the roasting pan as necessary during the last hours of cooking to prevent the fond from burning. Serve the pork with the accompanying peach sauce or with cherry sauce (recipe follows).
- 1 (6- to 8-pound) bone-in pork butt roast
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
- 10 ounces frozen peaches, cut into 1-inch chunks, or 2 fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into ½-inch wedges
- 2 cups dry white wine
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
- For the Pork Roast: Using sharp knife, cut slits 1 inch apart in crosshatch pattern in fat cap of roast, being careful not to cut into meat. Combine salt and sugar in bowl. Rub salt mixture over entire pork shoulder and into slits. Wrap roast tightly in double layer of plastic wrap, place on rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
- Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap roast and brush any excess salt mixture from surface. Season roast with pepper. Set V-rack in large roasting pan, spray with vegetable oil spray, and place roast on rack. Add 1 quart water to roasting pan.
- Cook roast, basting twice during cooking, until meat is extremely tender and roast near (but not touching) bone registers 190 degrees, 5 to 6 hours. Transfer roast to carving board and let rest, tented loosely with aluminum foil, for 1 hour. Transfer liquid in roasting pan to fat separator and let stand for 5 minutes. Pour off ¼ cup jus and set aside; discard fat and reserve remaining jus for another use.
- For the Peach Sauce: Bring peaches, wine, sugar, ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup defatted jus, and thyme sprigs to simmer in small saucepan; cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 2 cups, about 30 minutes. Stir in mustard and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar. Remove thyme sprigs, cover, and keep warm.
- Using sharp paring knife, cut around inverted T-shaped bone until it can be pulled free from roast (use clean dish towel to grasp bone). Using serrated knife, slice roast. Serve, passing sauce separately.
SLOW-ROASTED PORK SHOULDER WITH CHERRY SAUCE
Substitute 10 ounces fresh or frozen pitted cherries for peaches, red wine for white wine, and red wine vinegar for rice vinegar, and add ¼ cup ruby port along with defatted jus. Increase granulated sugar to ¾ cup, omit thyme sprigs and mustard, and reduce mixture to 1½ cups.
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