What’s the difference between a home cook and a chef? For me, the answer lies right there in the pages of Daniel Boulud’s braising book which came out back in 2006. I’m a big believer in braising; nothing makes me happier than to sear a tough piece of meat, stir in some aromatics, add a cooking liquid, and then to let thing go for three hours, only to have the meat melt beneath the tines of a fork when you’re done, the sauce right there without any extra labor. But as for those individual elements–the meat, the aromatics, the liquid–the best I could come up with, if pressed, would be all the usual suspects: chicken thighs, onions, garlic, white wine, etc. That’s because I’m a home cook. Chef Boulud, on the other hand, fills his pages with the most startling combinations: beef shank with coconut and avocado, pork belly with pineapple and plantains, lamb shanks with mint, prunes, and bourbon. And so on Saturday, I decided to channel my inner-chef and make the recipe that called out to me the most: Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes.
This recipe may as well have a sign hanging on it that says WELCOME TO FALL! It felt a little disingenuous to make it, with the weather here in L.A. still hitting the high 80s, but it’s getting a little cooler out at night and I figured that by the time my guests came over, they’d be ready for some autumnal eating.
The cool thing about a recipe like this is that you can do it all in the morning, let it cool down and refrigerate it when you’re done, then reheat it at dinner and it will only taste better. I woke up at 9-ish, immediately heated oil in my Dutch Oven, and got to work browning a 5 1/2 pound piece of pork shoulder:
That was actually a Herculean labor; turning it over in the hot pan took a par of tongs and a metal spatula and all of the muscles I’ve been developing at the gym. But the good news is that the effort paid off: look how brown I got it! And, as all Great Braisers know, the browner you get the meat at the beginning, the better everything will taste at the end.
From there, you cook down some onions in the pork fat:
Add garlic and pepper and tomato paste and whole allspice:
Wait, it gets even more fascinating. You add bay leaves and molasses:
And brown sugar and yams (or sweet potatoes) which you cut up into cubes:
Oh, and I forgot to mention, the night before–so this was on Friday night–you bring Guinness to a boil with dried cherries and Balsamic vinegar:
That whole shindig goes in with the pork and everything else and it all cooks together for three hours, turning the pork every so often:
That may not look like much, but let’s step a little closer.
That’s super sexy stuff. The flavor is this wonderful combination of bitter Guinness tempered by the sweet cherries, molasses, and brown sugar. The meat is like buttah–you don’t even need a knife.
Sometimes chef cookbooks veer towards the absurd–foams and centrifuges and the like–but this is a chef cookbook that shows, in the most fundamental way, how a chef’s imagination and artistry can elevate the humdrum into something sublime. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go nibble on the leftovers.
Recipe: Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes
Summary: From Daniel Boulud’s Braising.
- 5 cups Guinness stout
- 1 cup dried cherries
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 (5 1/2 pound) pork shoulder roast (I used pork butt, which I believe is the same thing)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large red onions, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 5 whole allspice, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and roughly chopped (I did cubes)
- Bring the stout, cherries, and vinegar to a simmer in a saucepan. Transfer to a bowl (or leave in the pot; that’s what I did), cover tightly with plastic wrap (I put the lid on); and let sit for at least 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight.
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 F.
- Warm the oil in a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over high heart. Season the pork shoulder with lots of salt and ground black pepper and sear on all sides until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the pork shoulder to a platter. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot.
- Add the onion and the crushed black pepper to the pot and sauté for 7 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Add the pork shoulder, the marinated cherries and liquid, allspice, bay leaves, molasses, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven, and braise for 1 hour, turning the pork once during cooking. Add the sweet potatoes and continue to braise for 2 more hours, turning two more times. If the sauce is too thin or is not flavored intensely enough, ladle most of it off into another pot and simmer it until it thickens and intensifies. Then add it back to the first pot.
- Slice the pork and serve with the sauce on top.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s)
Cooking time: 3 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6