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Braised pork shoulder… It’s magically delicious!

May 12, 2008

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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.

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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.

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Click here to download the recipe.

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