A: Pork. Pork. And Pork.
Since relocating from NY to SC I have fallen in love with pig. There isn't a part of the animal I don't like. I've had my share of bland, poorly cooked pork chops but I've had many more lousy steaks and boooo-riiing chicken dishes in my life. Pork can be lean and clean--a blank canvas. It can be cured and smoked into lardon perfection, braised and peasanty. It can also be roasted and served to ohhs and ahhs (and "oh my goodness!" and "seriously??"). Hats off to Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart for this straightforward method of roasting an intimidating hunk of pork!
When planning my New Year's Day dinner, I wanted to capture the South at her finest. Hoppin' John and collards were a traditional no-brainer. Cornbread and sweet tea were there to keep it fun. A giant blade roast (tipping the scales at 10 lbs) was there to knock my guests socks off. It did, thanks to Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. There are multiple recipes for pork roasts and I combined two for this roast. I had a massive piece of meat. MTAOSC's recipes are for 4-5 lb roasts, so I had to get thinking. Using the Slow-Cooked Pork Shoulder and the Braised Pork Shoudler recipes as a starting point, I was able to serve a mind-blowing pork roast.
The blade roast (aka Boston Butt, Pork Roast Butt) is from the upper shoulder (the lower being the "picnic" roast). It succulent and juicy throughout due to excellent marbling. Unlike many cuts of pork, it's almost impossible to overcook the blade. Low and slow (as cheesy as that is to say) will yield a perfectly moist and delicious roast. Unlike may beef roasts, pork blade roast seems to be self seasoned with flavor through and through.
My ten pounder would take approximately ten to twelve hours to get dead tender. So yea, I was still buzzing from the Eve when I yanked myself out of bed to get this baby cooking. Set on a 300 degree oven, the smells begin permeating the house at about 2 hours, torturing yourself and your family until you think you are gonna rip open the oven door and start stabbing at crisp skin with wild abandon.
First, you must season. A ten pound roast can never marinate fully. You just can't penetrate that much meat. This can be a letdown with many beef and leaner pork cuts. Often a roast will crispy on the outside and well seasoned, while the center seems a bit dry and in need of a dunk in gravy or creamy horseradish sauce (not that there is anything wrong with that). You'll be thrilled with this roast's intense flavor and juiciness. It's the nature of this cut. No gravy required, although why let all the gorgeous drippings and fond (crusty deliciousness clinging to the roasting pan) go to waste?
Pork shoulder has a thick fat cap over the top. This can be removed prior to roasting, leaving a thin layer of moisturizing fat. This was a holiday after all, so I decided to score the fat in a diamond pattern using an incredibly sharp knife (you can use a VERY clean exacto knife for this). After roasting this layer of fat can be removed and set back in the oven to get super crisp (the beloved cracklin'!). Sure, you can't go snacking on crispy fat chips all year long but just one day seems acceptable, right?
(You can see the diamond scoring here. It doesn't stay that pretty, sealing itself back together. The scoring will prevent the skin from tearing as it contracts in the heat. Makes for much easier removal and cracklin' preparation)
I used that same sharp knife to poke whole garlic cloves into deep slits in the roast. With such a long, slow roast, the slits seal themselves back together and there are little garlic gems hidden within the meat. I made a fresh and flavorful rub of sea salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary and thyme. Liberally season the meat, getting all sides (don't neglect the bottom!).
Place the roast in a roasting vessel with at least an 2" lip to catch all the drippings. Into the oven it goes. I tented my roast for the first 7 hours, then removed the foil tent to crisp the skin for the remaining time in the oven. Utilize a meat thermometer here (145 degrees internally) but seriously, this one is hard to kill! If it is a bit over when you get to the temperature, not to worry. This is succulent pork!
Allow your roast to rest for a half hour before slicing. You can remove the cracklin' immediately and recover the roast. Cut the cracklin' skin into bite sized pieces and return to the oven to render and get super crisp! Keep an eye on it, you don't want to scorch them. Once crisp, remove from the oven and drain on paper towels or a brown paper bag. I love cracklin' sprinkled on my greens and hoppin' john. I am so hungry right now.
As for gravy, hey, make it! You can easily set it aside and freeze for a day when you have some quick pork chops for dinner. It makes an excellent addition to most quick sauces and reductions! It's KILLER on mashed potatoes. Remove the roast from the roasting pan. Allow the pan to cool (you can speed this up by refrigerating) and skim off excess fat. Place the pan on your stovetop burners or back into a hot oven. Add some white wine, water, chicken stock (whatever really, the drippings are so intensely flavored, even water will do!) and scrape away the bits from the pan. I love a little squirt of dijon mustard in pork gravy but this is completely optional! Reduce the volume by half. To really cheat, add a sprinkle of Wondra flour and whisk well until desired consistency. You can always make a roux and add the strained drippings to create your gravy. Straining removes any solid flour or dirty looking bits and leaves you with pretty, silky gravy.
Carving this perfectly is a bit of a challenge due to the shank, but the meat is so tender it won't be too difficult to figure out. I cut a wedge from top to shank and slice away. At evening's end, I pulled the remaining meat from the bones to reserve for South Carolina mustard based pulled pork sandwiches. This recipe isn't in MTAOSC, but I'll be posting anyway. It's just too good.
(Pardon my photog skills, this was New Year's Day after all. I was blurry as well.)
This was just so delicious and satisfying. My Dad (who just celebrated is big 7-0, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!) knows his meat. He quietly and profoundly said that this may be the best pork he has ever had in his life.
Happy New Year!!