It’s not hard to get good flavor from a heritage pork shoulder, nicely browned on the outside then braised for hours in a low oven, until the meat is moist, juicy and falling-apart tender. Add some fresh-pressed apple cider to the mix, and a healthy dose of caramelized onion, and you’ve got a sweet-savory mix that is out of this world.
This is one of Tai’s favorite dishes and the relative ease of preparation belies the moans & groans of satisfaction whenever I serve it. Big enough to serve a crowd, or to keep our family of two in leftovers for several days, homey and warming, yet with a flavor complex enough for the most sophisticated palate. It’s hard to go wrong with this one.
Adapted from Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions, Gourmet, December 2001.
- 1 4-lb pork shoulder, preferably bone-in, fat layer trimmed to no thicker than ¼-inch (I get mine at Flying Pigs)
- 4 garlic cloves, cut into thick slivers
- sea salt & pepper
- 1 tbsp butter or olive oil
- 1 ½ lbs onions (5 or 6 medium onions), sliced
- 1 cup apple cider
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Rinse pork and pat dry. With a small, sharp knife, make slits all over the pork; stuff with garlic slivers. Season liberally with salt & pepper.
- In a Dutch oven sized to fit the pork snugly, heat butter or oil over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Brown meat well on all sides (2 to 3 minutes per side), turning to get sides and ends. Transfer pork to a clean plate. Add onions to the Dutch oven and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and starting to turn brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to sauté until onions are golden and lightly caramelized, about 20 minutes more.
- Stir in cider and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add pork, cover and braise in the preheated oven until very tender (meat should fall off the bone), 3 hours or more. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest while you reduce the sauce. On the stovetop, bring pan juices to a boil and boil hard until the mixture is thickened and reduced, about 5 – 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Break the pork into serving-sized chunks and top with hot onion sauce. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or other grain.
- Trimming the majority of the fat off of the pork shoulder yields a far less greasy sauce with a more pronounced onion flavor. Unless you are using a very lean pork shoulder, there is still plenty of fat in there, never fear: but I’ve made it with a full inch of fat layer left on, and I wished I hadn’t. The texture and flavor of the sauce is much better with a limited amount of the fatty layer left on the pork.
- Tai loves this dish as it is, and I do find it delicious, but always riding the edge of too sweet for me. I always wonder how a bit of smoky spice would be: some chipotle or ancho, perhaps, or a bit of smoked paprika. Someone out there try it and let me know, please!
- I have lots of plans for the leftovers: sandwiches, tacos, pasties, quesadillas. Options abound.
Refrigerated for up to 5 days. The sauce will separate on cooling; re-warm in a saucepan or microwave, then whisk briskly in a large bowl. It should come back together easily.
Fall through winter.