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Braised pork shoulder

Updated: Mon, 26 February, 2024

The best pork roast is a braise. Oven braised pork shoulder turns meltingly tender over four hours, with Mexican style flavours of chillies and cumin, following the recipe from Samin Nosrat.

braised pork shoulder

What is braising?

For a long while I’d thought ‘braising’ was one of those cookery euphemisms used instead of ‘boiling’. You know, like ‘pan roasted’ instead of ‘fried’; ‘poached’ instead of ‘boiled’ and ‘fermented’ instead of ‘pickled’.

Braising involves cooking in liquid and what, pray, is that if not boiling? And as everybody knows boiled meat is gross.

Boiled meat usually results in something wet but also inexplicably dry. It pulls apart but the strands are chewy and tough.

It tastes of nothing, no matter how many aromatics floated alongside it in the broth. The fat doesn’t render but turns gelatinous and unappetising, and veins and gristle simply multiply in volume. As I said – gross.

braised pork with chillies and onions

Samin’s braising directions are genius

It turns out, for the millionth time, that I was wrong – braising is NOT boiling.

Technicalities are subtle but obvious: the meat is only half-submerged in the liquid, it needs to be browned in the pan (shall we non-euphemistically say ‘fried’?) beforehand, and the cooking takes place in the oven instead on the hob, which for some reason is more appealing.

The result is epic: tasty, juicy and so tender it falls apart when you look at it. Serve it sliced as if it was a roast, like below. For an ultimate pulled pork taco experience shred it with two forks when hot and toss in the strained sauce.

This is not as much a recipe as directions from Samin Nosrat, the Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat author: she shies away from defining her book as a recipe book giving the readers much more than dry instructions.

So, as Samin says, once you’ve mastered one braise you can swap ingredients and improvise. One dressing - many dressings. One pasta sauce – etc. etc.

The pork braised with chilies is the original Samin invention and I can’t wait to try out improvisations: brisket awaits, chicken beckons.

oven braised pork shoulder

How to prepare pork shoulder for braising

Most pork shoulder joints sold in supermarkets come with the rind attached or wrapped in it. Which is lovely for cracklings, but this is not that kind of recipe. We aim to end with deliciously tender and flavoursome meat but not exactly roasted crisp. Rind is redundant – it needs to come off.

If your joint is rolled and tied, you need to unravel it first, then trim off the rind, which is easier to do that expected. You can try and roll the meat back up and tie it up into a bundle again with kitchen string. Granted, it won’t look as neat as before, but it doesn’t matter.

Next comes salting, generously, preferably a day ahead or as early as possible. Keep the meat unwrapped in the fridge while the salt is doing its magic, on a plate or a rack set on a plate.

pork shoulder

Aromatics and braising liquor

As per Samin’s suggestion, I’m using chillies: gorgeous, mild dried ancho chillies and one or two fresh ones.

A whole head of garlic goes in, together with two onions. The spices are cumin, paprika and bay leaves, in tune with Mexican/Southern flavour line.

The liquid is provided by a tin of tomatoes with all the juices, and beer, be it ale or lager, or whatever you won’t be sorry to slosh into the pot.

chilli and garlic

Searing and browning

If you own a large, oven and hob-proof casserole, cast iron or aluminium, you’re laughing as you can use it both for browning the ingredients and for the oven braising. Otherwise it will have to be a frying pan for the start and then a transfer into an oven dish.

The meat should be thoroughly browned and seared on the hob first. It’s not about sealing juices which is nonsense, but about giving the meat the flavour of caramelisation. It’s about Maillard’s reaction and all that mouth-watering stuff.

browning pork

Likewise the onions and aromatics should be given a head start in the casserole, browned in a little oil before they serve as a bed for the pork returning to the pot.
The liquid should come to about halfway up the meat. Bring it to a simmer, and off to the oven it goes, at medium heat of 160C/300F.

The whole braising process of a four-pound pork joint will take about three and a half to four hours of cooking, uncovered. The only bother is turning the meat in the braise every half an hour or so – but it’s worth it for the evenness of cooking.

If the liquid cooks off too much, top it up with water.

preparing pork braise

How to finish and serve braised pork

Once the meat is tender to the touch of a fork or a sharp knife, offering zero resistance, remove it carefully onto a plate. The sauce needs to be strained as the aromatics can now be mainly discarded, into a small saucepan, reduced on the hob to spooning thickness and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. You can add a squirt of ketchup or a spoonful of hot sauce, depending on preference.

Once the pork is rested and the sauce is ready, slice the meat thickly and serve with the sauce drizzled over. Alternatively offer the pork on a plate with two forks and the sauce on the side, for the shred-and-share experience.

braised pork in a pot

More pork recipes

The best and the easiest pulled pork with smoked paprika rub, seared and flambéed on the hob followed by slow braising in the oven. Perfect for amazing tacos, sandwiches and pasta or rice topping.

Pork shoulder steaks with sage butter, seared on a griddle and finished in the oven. Pork shoulder steaks are best cooked for 5-6 minutes on each side plus 10 minutes in the oven.

Neapolitan pork braciole in tomato sauce, braciole napoletane al sugo, an authentic and classic Italian Sunday lunch dish of stuffed pork roulades braised in tomato sauce.

More Mexican recipes

Easy slow cooked chilli con carne with minced beef, cannellini and kidney beans, ancho chillies and a pinch of cocoa powder. Happiness is a warm tortilla!

Pink Mexican rice, arroz rojo, is easy and incredibly tasty. Spicy restaurant style Mexican rice is cooked like pilaf, with tomato and onion puree for the colour, chillies for the heat and diced potato and carrot for the texture.

Quick pickled jalapeno peppers, crunchy and sweet and hot. The best pickled jalapenos are homemade, and these are ready within about an hour. Make sure you wear gloves!

beer and chilli braised pork shoulder

Braised pork shoulder

Servings: 6Time: 5 hours


  • 1½ - 2 kg (4 pounds) rolled rindless pork shoulder
  • fine sea salt
  • groundnut oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 whole head of garlic
  • 3-4 dried ancho chillies
  • 1-2 mild fresh red chillies
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 litre (1 quart) of beer, ale or lager
  • tomato ketchup, optional
  • chopped coriander and sliced jalapenos, to garnish


1. If you can’t buy rindless pork joint trim it yourself: cut off the strings, trim the rind and most of the white fat with a sharp knife and re-roll it, tying up with kitchen string in three or four places. It’s fine to leave it unrolled but it will help keep the meat in one piece when you get to turning it in the braise.

2. Salt the pork generously with salt as early as you can; a day ahead is best.

3. Peel and slice the onions, trim the bottom of the garlic head and halve it horizontally (no need to peel it as the skins will get strained); top and seed the chillies.

4. When ready to cook, heat up a large cast iron casserole or oven-proof pot over medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil. When it’s hot, brown the meat on all sides; it should take about 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and carefully pour out most of the fat.

5. Return the pan onto the hob and turn the heat down to medium. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan followed by the onions and garlic. Cook them, stirring often, until softened and slightly browned.

6. Preheat the oven to 160C/300F/gas 3. Add the chillies, bay leaves, tomatoes with all the juice, cumin and paprika to the pan. Place the pork in the middle and add enough beer to come up to almost halfway up the meat. Bring it to a simmer on the hob and transfer to the oven, uncovered.

7. After 30 minutes check that the sauce is only just simmering, and turn over the meat. Turn it again every 30 minutes for the next 3½ - 4 hours, topping up the liquid with more beer or just water if it cooks off too much.

8. When ready, the meat should pull apart at the touch of a fork. Carefully remove it from the sauce and leave on a warm plate to rest.

9. Strain the sauce into a clean saucepan. Bring it to the boil and reduce a little over high heat. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if necessary and a couple of tablespoons of tomato ketchup if you think it needs a hint of sweetness. 

10. To serve, slice the pork across the grain, spoon the sauce over and garnish with chopped coriander and jalapenos.

Originally published: Mon, 22 January, 2018

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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