Pork shoulder? It's my absolute favorite cut of meat. It's a hardworking bundle of muscles and that means it's packed with flavor. And because it's a bundle, it's layered with both fat and collagen, which provides even more flavor and a wonderfully unctuous mouth-feel. It pairs with flavors ranging from the chiles of the Southwest and Mexico; to the herbs, garlic, and lemon of the Med; to the Eastern flavors of Chinese five-spice powder and soy sauce. In fact the only area where this cut is isn't flexible is that it has to be cooking slowly and at low temperatures to produce a tender result.
In this case I began with a boneless Berkshire shoulder from a local organic farm. Rather than a marinade, which I've done in the past, this time I chose a brine to draw the flavors and moisture deeper into the meat. And what flavors! A combination of apple cider, dark rum, and juniper berries. It's worth noting that both the rum and the salt have a tenderizing effect that contribute to the tenderness of a roasted shoulder.
Note: Depending on the skill (and predilections) of your butcher the shoulder may need to be tied with twine to create a tidy, uniform roast.
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe is a testament to the beauty of brining. Instead of just adding salt and sugar to water, Kevin brines his pork shoulder in a blend of rum, cider, salt and spices. Over the course of many hours, the flavors penetrate the meat completely, so you end up with savory, aromatic slices of pork that are juicy and pink all the way through. The sautéed apples, themselves infused with onion, rosemary, rum and cider, are a great, lightly sweet counterpoint. - A&M —The Editors
Brined Roast Pork
juniper berries - crushed
peppercorns - crushed
garlic cloves - smashed
2 1/2 pounds
boneless pork shoulder
large apple - peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
Combine all ingredients except pork and oil in a medium sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, and cook until salt is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
Put the roast in a gallon zippered plastic bag, add brine, evacuate most of the air, and refrigerate for 18 - 24 hours — turning three or four times while brining to distribute the brine.
Allow roast to warm on the counter for 2 to 3 hours before cooking.
Heat oven to 250F. Rinse roast and pat dry with a lint-free kitchen towel. Discard brine.
Heat oil in a heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add roast and brown well on 3 sides — about 3 minutes per side. When you flip the fourth side down, place the skillet in the center of the oven. If the roast has a fatty side brown it first and end with it on top.
For tender, medium-rare meat, cook roast to 145-150 degrees at its center according to an instant-read thermometer, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Alternatively, for cooked through, succulent meat, cook to 165-170 degrees (we don't advise going for something in between). Remove from oven, place on a cutting board, and tent with foil.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. (Unfortunately the fond that accumulates in the bottom of the roasting skillet is too salty to use in a sauce, so use another large skillet.) Add butter and swirl to melt.
Add apples and rosemary in a single layer and lightly browned - about 5 minutes. Flip and brown other side. Add minced onion and cook 1 minute longer.
Add rum and reduce by half. Add cider and reduce by half. Taste and season with salt and pepper (light on the salt).