First I’d like to apologize for not having written anything here for a while, but I promise it was for a good purpose. The last month and a half I have been working my butt off to launch my new web venture RestaurantMafia. If you or anyone you know works for or services the restaurant industry, please help spread the word and have them sign up on the site. It’s a free way for service providers to market their products and a great way for industry insiders to network. End of pitch.
So at my volunteer day at Stone Barns, I made sure to hit their farm market before I left. In addition to my usual purchase of veggies and eggs (poulet eggs this time!), they had a particularly special treat on offer that I of course just couldn’t resist- an 8lb. pork shoulder. I am a big fan of pork, but I have to admit, I bought that hunk o meat more for the possibility of crispy pork skin than for the meat itself. When I got it home, I knew exactly how I wanted to prepare it. I had recently read about different ways that Filipinos prepare lechon, their version of roasted pig, and I came across a technique that thoroughly intrigued me. Apparently they have a method of preparation whereby they pierce the surface of the skin all over prior to roasting. The result is a better rendering of the fat and ultimately a crispier skin. Sounded sensible to me, so I broke out my pair of sharply pointed Japanese cooking chopsticks which were the perfect tools for the job. The goal is to perforate the skin about every half inch or so, going deep enough to get through the skin, but not pierce the meat below. After about ten minutes of careful preparation, this was how things looked:
You can see the tighter grouping of perforations along the right side of the shoulder, and you can see I got a little tired and lazy towards the end as the lower left corner only has one or two pierce marks. But this would prove to be a good indicator of how effective this lechon technique was. And the verdict? Well, have a look at the finished product after 5 hours in the oven (oh, I added salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme and oregano before cooking too):
As you can see, the perforations did in fact make a noticeable difference in crispiness. The lower left corner that was nearly void of piercings is just smooth and pliable in texture whereas the rest of the skin was all gorgeously blistered and crunchy. Note to all: if you are cooking pork and want to have delicious crunchy cracklings, it is worth it to spend the time perforating the skin before cooking.
Now you will notice that even though this beast cooked for 5 hours, there’s still a good layer of visible fat beneath the crispy exterior. So I ended up removing the shell of skin like a helmet and baking it separately to render the rest of the fat leaving me with the most amazing pork rinds ever. I packed them up in a plastic takeout container so they would keep fresh and I was able to enjoy them over a span of about two weeks. Awesome.
My initial plan for the rest of the meat was to make pulled pork and have sandwiches for a week. However this shoulder did not cook up like other pork butts I have made in the past. Even after 5 hours of cooking, the meat did not appear even close to wanting to fall apart. Most likely it was because of the way the pig was raised and I’m just not used to cooking such a high quality animal. So instead, I ended up enjoying the roast as meaty ham-like slices, and that 8lbs of pork was indeed enough for a week of magnificent lunches. The fat on each slice was so clean and aromatic. It was so marvelous that it almost seemed like maybe it wasn’t bad for you. Oh, ok, who am I kidding, it was sinfully delicious.
After I finished the last of the meat, I was so inspired by how amazing it was that I wanted to honor that animal as far as I could. So I took the remaining bone and boiled it up with some bay leaves, pepper corns and more thyme and the result was a gorgeous little pork broth. I had some as soup the night I made it, and then put the rest in the fridge for the following day.
The next day, what did I do with the rest of the broth? A little low brow cooking- I took a pack of instant ramen, chucked the soup packet in the garbage and boiled up the noodles in my pork broth instead. I sliced up some shitake mushrooms and scallions and added them to the pot and booyah, that was lunch. Not only was it delicious, but I felt extra proud of the fact that I had taken this pork, which came from a happy life and humane slaughtering at Stone Barns, and treated it with all the respect it deserved after I took ownership of it. From pork slices and pork rinds to the last drop of soup in my ramen, I felt good about having used a food product to the fullest extent I could. It felt like the right way to eat.