Slow-roasted pork shoulder (or butt)

The long story of the slow-roasted pork shoulder starts in 1998, when I acquired my first cookbook: the River Cafe Cookbook Two (Yellow). The word at the time was that this wonderful cookbook not only had delicious recipes, but that they all worked. Indeed, this and the other River Cafe Cookbooks have been my number one go-to cookbooks over the years. I love the recipes and they always worked out very well.

For these past twelve years, the recipe for a slow-roasted shoulder of pork has smiled up at me, enticingly, from page 248, but I never tried it. One of the reasons was that I rarely ate pork, and never cooked pork, mainly because I could not find good pork. Until I discovered it at Union Square market; Flying Pigs Farm has single-handedly transformed me into a cooker of pork.

But I still didn’t make the slow-roasted pork shoulder. After so many years, the recipe seemed frozen in the forbidding aura of “I will make this one special day” dishes.

As I recently became somewhat fixated on slow-roasted lamb shoulders, and slow-cooked things in general, I gathered the necessary momentum to try the promising, melt-in-your-mouth, delicious slow pork. And it didn’t work. The recipe calls for “dry roasting” on an open rack in the oven. The flavor was amazing and the crackling skin predictably perfect, but the meat wasn’t falling off the bone. It was tasty and not forbiddingly dry, but not what I had expected. Since I had only been able to cook it the minimum suggested amount of time (8 hours), I decided that must be the problem. So I tried again. I cooked the second pork shoulder some 18 hours. Same result.

Rather than try to cook it even longer (the recipe says 8-24 hours), I decided to look elsewhere. Surely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall must have a failproof slow-cooked pork in his River Cottage Meat Book. Alas, the recipe basically starts: “Actually, versions of this dish have already been enthusiastically championed by both the River Cafe and Nigella Lawson” and proceeds to give the same cooking method. Not helpful.

Now I really did acknowledge that the problem must be me, but I just wasn’t convinced that cooking the pork even longer would have done the trick, and how many pork shoulders need I bungle before the winter is over?

So I perused my cookbook shelves for a different recipe, one that cooked pork in a closed dish. And, not surprisingly, found it with David Chang. His cookbook Momofuku‘s pork shoulder for ramen has a simple salt/sugar rub, but I was looking for cooking time and temperature.

The answer is 6 hours at 250°F (120°C). It was perfect.

***

The quantities below are for a piece of meat of approximately 6 lbs (3 kg). The seasoning should be adjusted according to size, but the cooking time remains the same.

Note from March 2012: I have revised the cooking method. I believe starting the pork on low is a better guarantee to completely and deliciously tender meat, and finishing on high assures a crisp outside.

1 bone-in pork shoulder or butt

8 garlic cloves

2 Tbsps Maldon sea salt

6 Tbsps fennel seeds

Freshly ground black pepper

3 small dried red chilies

2-3 Tbsps olive oil

Juice from 3 lemons

***

Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C).

In a mortar, crush the garlic together with the salt, add the fennel seeds, a generous amount of back pepper, the crumbled chilies, and mix with the olive oil to create a thick paste.

Remove the skin and trim some of the fat. Cut deep, long gashes into the pork on all sides. Fill the gashes with the herb/spice mixture and rub all over the pork and place in an ovenproof dish with a lid (such as a Le Creuset dutch oven), then pour the lemon juice over the pork.

Cover with a tight fitting lid (or seal with aluminum foil) and cook in the low oven for 5 to 6 hours, basting occasionally.

(Optional: Finish by increasing the oven to 450°F (230°C), take off the lid, and brown on high heat for 20 to 25 minutes.)

Remove from the oven and let the meat rest for about 30 minutes before serving.

Note: Like most slow-cooked dishes, this pork will taste even better reheated. So if planning ahead, cook the pork on low the day before for about 4 1/2 hours to 5 hours. Let it cool slowly and once cold place it in the refrigerator. On the day you plan to serve the dish, reheat the meat at 250-300°F (120-150°C) for about 45 minutes, then turn up the heat to crisp up the outside as shown above — 450°F (230°C) for 20 to 25 minutes, as needed.

*

Related post:

Lentils

Slow-roasted lamb shoulder

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28 Responses to “Slow-roasted pork shoulder (or butt)”

  1. Jenne Marie Says:

    This is interesting. I’ve been making the River Cafe Slow Roasted Pork for years. I always roast it for between 15-18 hours in a roasting pan, basting with the lemon juice occasionally, and it always turns out perfectly. I can understand why your original roast didn’t cook in 8 hours, as it seems to NEED the extended hours to cook properly, when doing an open roast. I typically use the long-roasted pork for a casual party, placing the meat on a big platter with a fork or a pair of tongs, and people pull apart their meat making street tacos, with grilled corn tortillas, cilantro, onion and a nice spicy salsa. It is DREAMY made like this, the edges crusty and caramelized with the fennel/garlic rub, the meat deeply complex in flavor. It is always the star of the show.

    I tried your method last night, wanting, this time, to use the meat to make pulled pork sandwiches for my family tonight. I cooked it overnight, for 7 hours (it’s 10 lbs.), in a dutch oven with a lid, and it was perfectly cooked, falling off the bone. But it is a VERY different result than when I roast it according to the River Cafe recipe. The flavor isn’t as complex, and the fat renders very differently when cooked like this. This is going to be perfect for my sandwiches, and was a much simpler affair to roast for only 7 hours, but I REALLY recommend that people try the 18 hour slow-roast for a different experience; it is SUBLIME. (Really, the recipe suggests 12-18 hours…I’ve always done 15-18.)

    • valerie Says:

      Jenne Marie thank you so much for your comment. That’s really interesting and has convinced me to try the original recipe again!

  2. Haley Says:

    When reheating it in the oven, do I cover it?

  3. Athena Says:

    This is a great recipe! Thanks!!

  4. Athena Says:

    This recipe is great thanks!

  5. melonbobber Says:

    I have made this several times and it turns out perfectly each time. I have done it in the slow cooker on low all day or high for 4 hours. I absolutely love this dish. Leftovers are good as filling in tacos!

  6. Jennifer Says:

    I made this last night and my husband said it was the best pork he ever ate! Super moist. We cooked it in a Le Creuset dutch oven at 250 for 6 hours. It was 6.7 lbs (bone in). We did not brown it before. It didn’t need browning at the end. The meat fell off the bone and it melted in our mouths. The bottom was almost carmelized! We did a creamy polenta and sauteed spinach as sides and a Central Coast (Calif) Pinot and it went really well.

    • valerie Says:

      Jennifer, thank you so much for your comment, I’m thrilled to hear it turned out so well. The other day I made the pork with creamy polenta too (and oven-roasted carrots) – it was the perfect complement!

  7. Seamus Says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Well I cooked it and it turned out brilliantly.We used a de-boned hunk of shoulder just under 7lbs and I would suggest taking up to an hour off the cooking time for a de-boned joint, and using one less lemon for anything less than 7lbs, but that is just one man’s opinion. The meat was juicy, tender and tasty. I served it with your lentil recipe, alongside stir fried bok choy and mange touts. The lentils were fantastic too – will definitely be doing them again and can’t wait to try them with a fried egg. The one question I have is how smooth the paste should be that you make at the beginning of the recipe – I wasn’t sure how crushed the garlic and fennel seeds should be…?

    • valerie Says:

      I am so glad you enjoyed it, and thank you very much for the feedback.
      The paste I made was pretty coarse as I don’t mind finding fennel seeds in the meat and sauce, but it’s really up to you. If you prefer the fennel well ground, that should be done separately.
      About the cooking time – your point is well taken, in fact I’ve even been wondering whether it might be better to start the cooking slow, perhaps even in a cold oven, and end on high heat to crisp up the outside. Most recipes do it the other way around (as I described in the recipe), but I’ve been thinking about testing it the other way. When I do I will give an update.
      Thanks! Valerie

  8. Seamus Says:

    Hi Valerie.This looks fantastic! I want to cook it this weekend and have a couple of questions:
    – Do you trim the fat at all or does this dish get a nice crackling on it?
    – I take it the meat sits in its own juices the whole time, rather than sitting on a rack?
    – Do you baste it with lemon juice?

    Cheers!

    • valerie Says:

      Hi and thank you for your questions.
      -You should trim off the skin and some of the fat (I have now added this point to the recipe, thanks!). There will be a nice crust on the pork but to get proper crackling you would need to cook the shoulder without a lid, and I found it very hard to get meat that is super tender and melting that way. Toward the end of the cooking time, check what the meat looks like. Depending on the dish you use it may have browned nicely or not so much. If you would like more of a crust, remove the lid and leave it open for the last half hour or so.
      -The meat sits in the bottom of the dish, though it would be fine on a rack as well, since in any case the juices don’t not cover the whole piece of meat.
      -Yes, baste the meat with the juice, adding additional lemon juice if necessary.
      Hope it turns out well – do let me know. Best, Valerie

  9. susan Says:

    Hi- this looks great! How many people does it serve? And what do you usually serve as a side? Thanks!

    • valerie Says:

      Thank you for your comment! For the quantities I defer to my favored pork breeder Flying Pigs Farm . They suggest counting 3/4 lb per person for bone-in shoulder, or 1/2 lb per person for the boneless butt. As sides I love simply braised bok choy and lentils, or polenta and leafy greens. The pork is intensely fragrant and needs something fairly sober, otherwise the flavors will compete with each other.

      • susan Says:

        Thanks! I am serving 12 people so I guess I will get around 8lbs. Also, I didn’t think to ask this in my previous comment- I want to make it the night before and reheat for the party. Does it really taste just as good the next day? And should I shred it right after it cooks, or wait til I reheat it?
        Thanks again!

      • valerie Says:

        Yes! It’s a great idea to make it the night before as it really will taste better once reheated. Let it cool then store in the fridge, and reheat in a low oven (250 to 300°F). I would leave it whole and cut (or shred) before serving. Enjoy and do let me know how it was.

  10. Peggy Says:

    I love when I find the perfect combination for a recipe using all the resources available to me. Great job with this – it looks fantastic!

  11. Mary @ Delightful Bitefuls Says:

    Yum!! This looks DIVINE! Totally bookmarking this!

    Great blog; happy I found you!

    Mary xx
    Delightful Bitefuls

  12. Nathalie Says:

    Oh how cruel!!! and me in the land of no-pork…
    I think this summer will be a pork themed summer…sardines and pork… we need to find a good pig farm!

    • valerie Says:

      Pork, sardines, mussels, artichokes, far, kouing amann…

      I think Claudia found a good pig farmer – he goes to Loguivy market and his farm is outside Plouaret. We will have to go.

  13. mariya Says:

    This is also a nice dish with a Cuban marinade of crushed cumin, olive oil, crushed chillies, crushed garlic, lime or lemon juice, and orange zest. Basically it’s the same technique, except all ingredients are added to the marinade, so it’s a thin paste due to the lime juice, and the pork marinates between 6-24 hours.

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