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.