Braised pork shoulder… It’s magically delicious!

May 12, 2008

Ah, the pig.

That regal creature that Homer Simpson once referred to as a “wonderful, magical animal.” Indeed, I believe the pig may be magical: After all, a little bit of pig seems to make everything a lot more delicious. (And, never having had unicorn, I can only assume the pig is far tastier.)

My husband has long been under the spell of the swine, and has lately become a little more obsessed. Take, for example, the menu he prepared last week when we had family in town:

Monday: Braised pork belly. Tuesday: Braised pork shoulder. Wednesday: Barbecued pork ribs. If he had prepared pig trotters on Thursday, I was going to start ransacking the house looking for the pig carcass he was obviously hiding.

Not that I’m complaining. Doctors may not agree, but I believe a steady diet of pig leads to healthy — or at least, happy — living. And that is why we’re sharing with you Tuesday’s masterpiece: Braised pork shoulder.

Yes, the husband has not only blessedly turned his attention to that wonderful, magical animal… he has also dedicated himself to studying perhaps the most delicious art of food preparation: braising. Braising, that most perfect of techniques for concocting tender, delectable, melt-in-your-mouth meat. And pig, that meat most amenable to the BBQ chef’s mantra of “low and slow.”

The result of combining these two divine things? Heavenly, tender, succulent pork shoulder and a lovingly reduced sauce that will transport your taste buds to nirvana. I’m not exaggerating. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.


And now, the husband speaks…

I do love some pig. I’ve made more than a few pork dishes in the past week, but how’s that my fault? I mean, I didn’t make the pig that delicious.

But while this dish does demonstrate the magic of pig, it also is an example of the greatest technique I learned in culinary school — sauce making. There is perhaps nothing more French than the act of making sauce, and you have to give those cheese-eaters credit: Uninteresting morsels of food can be turned into something really special with the right sauce. In this dish, the sauce is made by reducing the cooking liquid to a near-glaze until it it is rich, delicious, and enhances the flavor of the meat.

What’s more, this dish also works with a newer obsession of mine: beer. I have to admit, I spend an inordinate amount of time at Rick’s Wine and Gourmet here in Alexandria, Va. I’ve even become friends with my local beermonger and fellow blogger, Nick. The store and Nick have been my cheerful suppliers as I continue to plow along. But this post is about demonstrating the glorious potential of beer, not about the high likelihood of seeing me in my little beer shop around the corner.

Here the beer is part of the braising liquid. The pork shoulder is browned and then slowly cooked in combination with Belgian strong ale and chicken stock. Along with their higher alcohol content, Belgian strong ales are known for their intense flavors that I feel pair naturally with pork. Here, I used a dark or golden variety of this style that exhibits fruit, citrus rind and spice; it reminds me of the classic pairings of pork with apples and cinnamon. The sauce that is rendered from the cooking liquid has a sweetness and a nice acidity — and I’m fairly confident would make my fingers delicious enough to eat.

Finally, this recipe is an homage to Daniel Boulud. While we were living NYC, my wife and I went to his flagship restaurant, Daniel, in midtown. For both my wife and I that experience was incredibly memorable not only for the amazing meal, but for the hospitality heaped upon us by the staff. After finding out I was a culinary student, the chef did those little extras that made us feel lavished upon. Beyond a clear demonstration of what it means to receive multiple Michelin stars and four stars from The New York Times, it showed us a sense of generosity that we’ll try to show to others.

This recipe was inspired by his recent book Braise. He has a recipe for pork shoulder with hazel nuts and Jerusalem artichokes (AKA sunchokes). While I liked the original version, I changed it to include more American flavors such as bourbon and pecans, gave up white wine for my heartier ale and swapped the very earthy Jerusalem artichokes with the milder new potatoes. The recipes do vary in grades from there, but I’d like to think this version is… I won’t say better, just more pleasing to a pair of people.

Click here to download the recipe.

Braised Pork Shoulder with Raisins and New Potatoes

4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
3 lbs. red potatoes (peeled, cut into 3-inch pieces)
1 qt. chicken stock
12 oz. Belgian Strong Ale (pref. golden/dark)
2 medium sweet yellow onions
6 cloves garlic
3 shallots
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup bourbon
olive oil

1/4 cup pecans (crushed)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 tbsp. butter (melted)
zest of a lemon

1 gallon water
3/4 cup salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar
15 peppercorns

1. Mix together the brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Once the salt and sugar are dissolved set aside and let cool. Once room temperature, add the pork shoulder and cover the container. There are benefits to brining for as little as 20 minutes. However, for best results, refrigerate overnight. If the shoulder has an excess amount of fat, trim off.

2. In a medium sauce pan, boil 1 quart of water. Add the raisins and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the raisins. Move the raisins to another container. Add the bourbon to the raisins. Cover for as long as 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight. The raisins should look slightly plumped.

3. Remove the leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme. Add the leaves, bread crumbs, pecans, and butter to a small dish. Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate until firm.

4. Preheat oven to 325F.

5. Drain the raisins and reserve the bourbon. Place a Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom. Once hot, add the pork shoulder, shallots, garlic and 3 sprigs of thyme. Sear the pork shoulder on all sides. Watch the shallots and garlic and remove if they appear to burn. Once the pork is browned, remove and set aside. Add the reserved bourbon to deglaze. WARNING: Be careful, the bourbon may ignite. This is not a bad thing, just be careful. Once the bourbon is nearly evaporated, add the beer, stock, and any removed garlic, or shallots. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 min. Strain the liquid, and skim off any obvious extra fat. You are making a flavorful stock to use later. Set it aside.

6. In the pot, back over medium heat, brown the onions. Return the meat and cooking stock to the pot, and add the raisins and remaining thyme. Place in the oven. It will need to braise for about 2 to 2 ½ hours. The meat should be extremely tender. About halfway through the cooking, add the potatoes and cook until they are easily pierced with paring knife.

7. Remove the potatoes and pork from the liquid. Cover with heavy foil and set aside. Strain the liquid and place in a pot to reduce. This is the moment of truth for this dish. You want to boil down the cooking stock to nearly a syrup. Do not season the sauce until you are done. There may be enough salt from the meat that seasoning too early will hurt the flavor. Reducing could take up to 30 to 40 min. One signal it is done will be that the liquid will change from a pale apple cider color to a dark caramel color. The liquid will also begin to bubble in a manner similar to when you make caramel, meaning lots of small tight bubbles the cover the top of the liquid. Finally, it should be thick and coat a spoon completely without easily dripping when turned upside down. Another trick to check for doneness is to place a little on a plate and see how easily it moves when the plate is held perpendicular to the floor. It should be slow.

8. Preheat the broiler. Press the crust against the top of the pork shoulder pieces and then place on a sheet tray. Run under the broiler until golden brown. Slice the shoulder, serve with the potatoes, coat gently with sauce, and add a few fresh raisins as garnish.

NOTE: In making this recipe, I used both Pranqster from North Coast Brewing Company and Gulden Drak, a classic Belgian version, on separate occasions with great results. Other examples of this style are Chimay Grande Reserve (the blue bottle), Gouden Carlos Carolus D’Or, and Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 1.


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  2. Looks great. Great choice of beers too. Thanks for the shout out. See you at Savor!


  3. That sounds like a wonderful week of pig… Delicious!

  4. Don’t know how I came to your blog – but you two crack me up – you two sound like when my husband and I moved to Manhattan with our daughter who was 9 months old. Only he didn’t cook, I ordered in! Loved the city, but we left after 2 years (and another child!). My husband loves to cook and commandeer the barbeque, sadly cooking school isn’t in his future!! I’ll be checking back to see what you two are up too!!

  5. It looks like a lot of work, but it’s pork so who cares!

  6. and, gorgeous photos! my mouth was watering before i read the recipe.

  7. Made it for guests – it was great. Only possible quibble was that I brined overnight and the sauce became a little salty.

  8. […] there is anything better than meat cooked for a long time. Two of my favorite recent recipes are a previous pork shoulder braised in Belgian ale and beef short ribs braised in red wine and beef stock. The flavors created by those intense […]

  9. Found this by searching “braised pork shoulder” on google. It looks great, but I have one question about step 5. Shouldn’t you brown the pork shoulder in the oil, then throw in your onion, then shallots and garlic, and once they are softened deglaze w/ the alcohol? That just seems more practical then trying to brown the shoulder at the same time as the shallots. I may try this next week w/ the pork I have from a farm near Chicago.


  10. You certainly can do that if your pot is not big enough. But its really a matter of time. From my stand point, quicker it’s in and going all the better, and feel this moves faster. In addition, you risk burning the fond (brown part on the bottom of the pot) if you wait too long to deglaze. If you let it burn, you don’t just loose a great deal of flavor, you risk making the subsequent sauce bitter when it reduces down.

  11. Here’s a much belated question…can you stop this dish at any point? I would imagine perhaps you could store the already braised shoulder in the stock overnight and then proceed the next evening? Or would this be a disaster?

    (I’d imagine in this case leaving out the potatoes lest they go to mush).

  12. Here, Here!! to your pork shoulder post. We love it as well here in South Texas! When we make your fresh salsa, we call it “pico de gallo” which means the beak or peck of the rooster. Mexican people have been making it for a long time and it is perfect with a pot of anasazi beans! Thanks for all your good recipes!!!

  13. I forgot to add that I like to cook the port without the other stuff and then refrigerate over night. When I take it out, I remove all the fat before serving. The juices have fat on top after being refrigerated. Thanks

  14. Making braised shoulder tomorrow! Thanks for the inspiration. This is very well laid out. Love the blog.

  15. I made this recipe today and by far, the best I have tasted. I am so grateful for your careful directions and attention to detail. The lemon zest in the crust paired against the sweetness of the reduction sauce – blew my mind. Many blessings to you and your family – cheers!

  16. One of my specialties is beer-braised pork belly, for which I use a Saison ale, somewhat similar to what you have going here. But this year for christmas I can’t get pork belly in the area I’m staying, so I’m going to try pork shoulder instead. Instead of the brine, I’ll be using a dry rub of clove, smoked salt, cinnamon, dark brown sugar, and pepper, but I’m modifying my usual mirepoix to be like this one. I’ll likely try this lovely pecan crust as well. This happens in a few days, can’t wait!

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