Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pork shoulder: The Method

Few foods are more pleasing than pork shoulder (of pulled pork and carnitas fame. I'm going to say pork shoulder as opposed to one of the two common preparation because I don't want to be limited to the preparations of either of those two variations). It's juicy, moist, flavorful, and unlike say, pork belly, pork shoulder gives the illusion that you're not eating something filled with fat. It's no so indulgent that you feel bad eating it as an everyday sandwich, though I feel somewhat guilty that I've have legitimately eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past two days (I had leftovers from an event that required me to produce mass quantities). It's an escape from the humdrum taste of turkey and cheese or peanut butter and jelly that my peers and I are so constantly subjected to. Perhaps what's best about pork shoulder is that it is very easy to prepare. The fact that the meat is laden with fat leaves large room for error on the part of the cook. This large room for error however means that there is a large range for good pork shoulder. Most pork shoulder is delicious, but how does one make it exceedingly so?

I'm a strong believer in the power of the brine. It's a great way to ensure that the meat retains more moisture after cooking and it is also a great way for imparting flavors into the meat. The pork that I've prepared without a brine has been significantly dryer and less flavorful than that prepared with a brine. For pork I like to use garlic, rosemary, peppercorns, and honey as a starting point from which I add or subtract depending on the application. I brine pork shoulder for 12-24 hours. I also like a dry rub, largely because the sugar I put in the rub helps to ensure a nicely cararmelized and crispy crust. For my dry rub I use smoked paprika, smoked black pepper, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, lots of cayenne, and brown sugar.

To cook the pork I sous vide it because it gives me precise temperature control and lots of other benefits. I sear it on all sides before it goes into the sous vide bad, then I cook it at 176 degrees for 12 hours. To reheat the pork, I take it out of the bag, reserving all the juices and fat in the bag and dry it off as well as possible. I then sear it in a flaming hot pan in some of the reserved fat from the bag--I really like the crispy parts. Then deglaze the pan with the juices left in the bag and pull it apart in the pan. Then DEVOUR.

(Pulled pork, romesco, pecorino cheese)

I don't really like to call it pulled pork, because it diverges from pulled pork in the preparation (i.e. it's not smoked). It's kinda just my own little thing that I've improved upon. Here's a basic recipe.

This makes a 7% salt, 5% sugar solution.
1000 grams water
70 grams salt
50 grams honey
few sprigs of rosemary
4 cloves of garlic
tablespoon of peppercorns

Dry Rub:
I don't know exact quantities for the rub.
About 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp of each:
garlic powder
onion powder
smoked black pepper
smoked paprika

1 boneless pork shoulder

1) cut the pork into 6 pieces.

2) Make brine by bringing all ingredients to a simmer in a pot, then turn off heat, let cool to room temp, then refrigerate until cool

3) Add pork to brine and keep in fridge for 12 hours.

4) remove pork from brine, rinse off, and cover with dry rub. Let sit another 12 hours.

5) Sear pork in a very hot pan until brown on all sides.

6) Sous vide (or alternatively braise in chicken stock for about 4 hours) at 176 for 12 hours.

7) Let meat cool and when ready to serve meat, remove from bag, reserving juices and fat in bag.

8) Sear in a hot pan until a crust is formed, then add the remaining juices from the bag and pull the pork apart as it warms.



Anonymous said...

Sounds good. I wouldn't have thought to sear it twice, but it kind of makes sense. Am I remembering correctly that you bought a Sous Vide Supreme? If so, it's good to know that you can fit a pork shoulder in there,

Anonymous said...

Your brine sounds a little sweet. Don't forget that honey's sweetness is more concentrated than that of granulated sugar. The ratio of 7% salt to 5% sugar solution becomes more like 7% to 4% when you use sugar.

Anonymous said...

do you mean you used the whole shoulder (both sections>?) or the butt or picnic?

The pork shoulder weighs 12-18 pounds and consists of two portions: the butt, which is the upper portion of the shoulder, and the picnic, which is the lower portion.

this is always confusing to people- and is in need of clarification. thanks

Nick N said...

Thanks for that info about honey.

To be honest, I'm not sure whether I used the butt or the picnic. I'll be sure to make a note of it next time.

El Padrino said...

pernil is the bomb

Anonymous said...

Sounds delish! I'm awaiting my Sous Vide set up in the mail. I have a question for any enthusiasts out there, if I take my pork shoulder out of the bag after it's done is it ok to treat it like any other piece of meat at that point? i.e popping it in the fridge?

Nick N said...

anonymous: just to be safe and to inhibit backteria from growing i always cool the plastic bag with the meat in it in an ice bath before putting in the fridge