Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.
Today: A sweet and savory pork roast you can put in your oven, and then forget.
Pork is not the meat I turn to first when I'm cooking meals at home. We eat a lot of bacon and Clara's favorite pasta sauce is made with sausage, but with the state of pork these days, whole cuts tend to be tougher and more dry than any of us has patience for. So I usually avoid them. This all changed recently when I befriended the pork guy at our Sunday farmers market.
I was flirting with the idea of making a pork stew instead of one of my usual lamb or beef varieties, so I approached the stand and asked the man there what would work best for stew. He heaved a four-pound boneless butt out of his cooler, assuring me that it was beautifully marbled and would be perfect.
What I didn't realize until I got home was that the pork butt was frozen solid. There was no way it was going to thaw in time for me to make a stew that night, so I put it in the fridge and decided I'd deal with it later.
The next night I got home from work late and although the pork butt was no longer frozen, I knew I didn't have enough time to cook and cool a stew before bed. The hole in the fridge where there should have been a nice big batch of pork stew for the week was starting to make me anxious, and I had another night out the following evening.
I decided to go rogue. I thought I'd heard somewhere you can cook a pork roast overnight in the lowest of low ovens and have it turn out brilliantly. A quick Google search yielded some promising results, like this recipe from Jamie Oliver. His calls for an 11-to-13-pound shoulder roast on the bone, but with a little tweaking I was pretty sure I could make this work.
I wanted something less Mediterranean and more barbecue, so I stirred together a thick paste of chopped garlic, brown sugar, maple syrup, mustard, thyme, black pepper and a little chipotle powder and slathered the pork with it after salting it liberally. I gave it a quick blast in a scorching oven to get some caramelization going, then turned the oven down as low as it would go. I turned off the lights and went to bed.
The next morming, we woke to an intoxicating garlic-sugar-pork aroma, and the pork looked gorgeous -- it was burnished and crisp on the outside, and when I went at it with two forks, it virtually fell apart on its own. I packed some up with a soft roll and some slaw for Jonathan's lunch. Clara and I had it on its own, and then with pasta later in the week.
I've now made this at least five times. Love, thy name is pork butt.
Serves 8 to 10
1 four-pound boneless pork butt, with a good layer of fat on top
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle (plus more to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
Photos by Mark Weinberg