Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Creamy Gravy

Feeling a little chilly? Well, it took a trip to the heartland--Chicago, specifically--to be introduced to a dish that warms the soul. Rich, succulent...this dish, Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes, which my friends Candy and Dennis Wallace and I enjoyed at The Purple Pig, made us gasp with delight. And, it sent Candy straight to her kitchen once back in San Diego to try to recreate it.

Lucky me. I work with Candy and Dennis on their wonderful business, the American Personal & Private Chef Association, handling social media and other writing for them. (You can find APPCA on Facebook and Twitter.) For decades this trade organization has been training chefs and capable home cooks to run their own businesses shopping for and preparing personalized meals for families and individuals--whether they have special health needs or just no time for or interest in cooking. When we had a strategy meeting at their house recently, Candy, a chef for more than 30 years, set about preparing her now refined recipe for us to enjoy at lunch. It's a bit different from The Purple Pig's, and utterly divine.

The key to the success of this dish is making pork stock, a much neglected type of stock. Why we regularly make chicken or fish stock and don't have rich pork stock at hand is beyond me. It's easy to make and imparts a luscious, unique flavor. I know someone who uses it for French Onion Soup, but beyond that, I don't see that it's widely used or available in a ready made form. So this recipe is even more of a keeper just for the stock recipe.

But make the whole dish for a Sunday supper when there's time to relax and revel--and take a nap afterwards.

Candy Wallace's Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Creamy Gravy
Inspired by Chicago’s The Purple Pig
Serves 4
It takes two days to prepare this dish, although the actual work time is minimal. On day one, you’ll make the pork stock. You can trim the bone from the pork shoulder you’re going to braise and use that with the rest of the pork stock ingredients listed below. Tip: if you want your stocks or soups to be clear instead of murky, never let them reach a hard boil (like what you want when cooking pasta). Instead, keep to a gentle simmer—low and slow.
For Pork Stock:
2- to 3-pound pork shoulder or shank and any pork bones you may have stored in your freezer for stock
1 ½ gallons water
1 head garlic, whole and unpeeled, halved through its equator
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 to 3 carrots
3 stalks celery
4 to 5 bay leaves
6 black peppercorns

For Braised Pork Shoulder
1, 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder
2 onions, peeled and quartered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 to 3 stalks of celery, chopped into large pieces
1 bunch of fresh thyme
6 large bay leaves
1 ½ gallons milk
1 ½ gallons pork stock

For Gravy:
¼ cup Marsala
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Cooking liquid from braised pork
Salt and pepper

1. To make stock: Brown the bones, meat, onion, and garlic in a roasting pan. Cover with water, bring to an active simmer, and skim off any scum as it appears. Add the carrots, celery, and spices, reduce the heat, and allow to simmer at least four hours, adding water to cover as needed. Strain stock. Allow to cool and refrigerate, leaving layer of fat intact.
2. The next day, break down the pork shoulder, removing the bone and cutting the meat into 6- to 8-ounce servings. Tie them with string. Season generously with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a large roasting pan and sear the pork pieces. When all sides of the meat have been browned, add the vegetables, fresh herbs, milk, and pork stock to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Season with salt and pepper again, and place the covered pan in the oven to braise for two to three hours.

4. Remove the cooked pork from the pot. Cut off the string from each piece. Cover and let rest. Strain the braising liquid into a bowl and discard the solids.
5. Place the pan on the stovetop, add back the braising liquid, and reduce by half. Add the Marsala and cook for a minute. Mix cornstarch with cold water and add to the hot liquid to thicken the gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve pork on a bed of hot, creamy mashed potatoes, cover with gravy, and top with sautéed or roasted asparagus.

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