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The best pork roast isn’t a roast – it’s a braise.
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.
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.
- 1 ½ - 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 chilies
- 1 – 2 mild fresh red chilies
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1 litre of beer, ale or lager
- tomato ketchup, optional
- chopped coriander and sliced jalapenos, to garnish
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.
Salt the pork generously with salt as early as you can; a day ahead is best.
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 chilies.
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 15 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and carefully pour out most of the fat.
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.
Preheat the oven to 160C/300F/gas 3. Add the chilies, 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.
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 3 ½ - 4 hours, topping up the liquid with more beer or just water if it cooks off too much.
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. Strain the sauce through a colander and bring it to the boil in a clean saucepan. 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. Reduce it a little over high heat.
To serve, slice the pork across the grain, spoon the sauce over and garnish with chopped coriander and jalapenos.