If I eat at an America-Mexican restaurant, I don’t order fajitas, I order carnitas. Carnitas is braised then charred pork. Recipes add flavorings like cumin or citrus to the mix. I couldn’t imagine a better way to cook a pork shoulder.
The pork shoulder is a well-marbled piece of meat with an awkward bone going through the whole piece. Pork shoulders make for a good roast because you can’t slice it up pretty. Pork shoulder has lots of connective tissues that break down into mouth-coating gelatin after low, slow cooking. All of this combines to make beautiful carnitas.
We ate the carnitas with these lovely corn and wheat tortillas from the COOP, avocados and salsa. Wonderful!
Arista is a Tuscan style pork roast with pepper, rosemary, garlic and olive oil. My father taught me how to cook this roast.
I started cooking the pig with the bone-in loin roast. This is a tender and well-marbled cut with plenty of connective tissue and tasty bones for gnawing (See pictures below). Typically this roast is cut into pork chops, but a better way of cooking it is to roast it.
I make a paste of rosemary, black pepper, garlic, salt and olive oil, then slice into the meat diagonally across the grain at 1/2″ cuts. I stuff the cuts with the paste and tie it all up. 400F until 150F. Rest for 30 minutes. Slice. Gnaw bones.
I have 7 beautiful pork roasts, all 3 to 6 pounds, offers up a world of opportunities. However, I know myself, and I have to be smart today because I will inevitably be stupid later. I want to plan out the best way to cook each cut, and map that onto my most favorite recipes, to come up with a roadmap for how to eat this beautiful pig and give myself something to look forward to in the wintery months ahead.
The Cooks Illustrated Meat Book provided ample information on what to do with the roast, once I had mapped the Butcher’s labels onto pig anatomy. From this, I know that the loin is the tenderest meat that can be cooked rapidly on high heat, grilled, etc, but the shoulder will need more time and slower, lower cooking temperatures.
I also have a long, well-honed list of pork recipes that I love to cook and eat.
- Char Siu is a Chinese-style pork roast with warm spices (star anise, cinnamon, clove) and soy. If I do it right, I can get that lovely red line around the outer edge of the meat. I love to make it, slice it very thin and freeze for recipes later. I can use slices of char siu in ramen noodles, made into a pâté with hoisin sauce to stuff pork buns, and add a little bit of meatyness to a stir fry.
- Tonkatsu, or Japanese-style breaded pork cutlets. A Faerber family tradition, for some reason. The cutlets get deep fried, so Tonkatsu makes a giant mess of things in the kitchen and so only gets made on holidays. And, Panko are far superior bread crumbs. I’ll leave that one out there to debate with Nick Scheeler.
- Arista – Tuscan style pork roast with ample black pepper, rosemary, garlic and olive oil rubbed into deep slashes in the meat.
- Pulled pork, braised American style for BBQ sandwiches, or braised and grilled Mexican style for Carnitas. This is ideal with the pork butt roasts from the upper part of the pork shoulder.
Now to map on tasty dishes to roasts.
The best part of getting a whole pig is getting all of the bacon. Most store-bought packages are the center of the belly with a mix of fat and meat. However, when you get the whole belly smoked, cured and sliced, some parts have more meat and less fat, and others are mainly fat with a little meat.
Both are wonderful. I have over 7 pounds. Of. Bacon. All from the same pig. If I had wanted, I could thaw each package and lovingly line it all back up into the primal belly.
On the first night having the pig at home, I had to cook some of the bacon. To stare into the eyes (belly?) of the beast and know my adversary, my friend, this porcine lover that I had brought to my chest freezer. (The pork barely fit. I had to say a prayer to the chest freezer fairy and put a weight on the lid to keep it all inside.)
The bacon is wonderful. Well cured and not over-smoked. The smokehouse did excellent work.