Around the Christmas holidays, I was shopping for a shoulder roast and bumped into a friend checking out the pork as well. I lamented the fact that some supermarket pork brands can be tasteless. She started to relate her method of cooking roast pork and it sure got my attention. This woman knows her way around farm animals, having ranched here her whole life. And with a large family always looking for something to nibble on, the less work the better. She said to roast it in the oven on low heat for a long time and - her words - "Go to bed and forget about it!" Seasonings were a personal thing; salt and pepper did the trick, and the meat would come out so good no one complained. Forward to this contest and I never had gotten around to using her method. Still bothered by the possibility of not very flavorful meat even if it was nicely roasted, I researched recipes that called for marinating pork to restore some of the sweet, almost wild taste of pork gone by. The common spices used are juniper berries and peppercorns in a wet marinade. Wanting to keep things simple, as well as incorporating the Italian flair for enhancing flavor, this dry rub was born. Aglione is a Emilia-Romagna mixture used for infusing all manner of foods with additional gusto. —Amber Olson
mixed peppercorns or all black
large bay leaf, crumbled
chopped fresh rosemary
kosher salt, divided
large garlic cloves
olive oil as needed
boneless pork shoulder blade roast (small town limitations,this was all that was available to purchase that day!)
In This Recipe
Prepare the rub and paste: Press down on the juniper berries to break them up somewhat. In a spice grinder, grind the juniper, allspice, peppercorns, fennel and bay leaf to a coarse powder, stirring and redistributing the spices. Add the marjoram, grind just to incorporate, then add 1 tsp.salt and grind a second to distribute. Turn mixture out into a small bowl and add the rosemary. Measure 1 TB. and place in a small bowl. Moisten this with a drizzle or two of olive oil. Mash the garlic with a bit of salt to form a paste, add to the spice paste, then add a touch more olive oil to achieve a spreadable but not runny paste. Set aside. To the remaining dry rub, add the last 1 tsp. salt.
Prepare the pork: pat the pork dry. Where the bone was removed, cut into the meat to open it like a book, but don't slice completely open. Massage the spice paste over the insides of the roast. Tie up into a nice shape. Rub the dry spices all over the outside of the meat. Put on a rack on a plate and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight for air curing (or all day if you want to roast this overnight.)
Remove the meat from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before roasting. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Transfer the roast and the rack to a roasting pan. Slide into the oven and walk away. Pork will be done in about 6 1/2 -7 hours. You'll be able to pull it apart easily. Snip the ties, slice and serve. Braised fennel would be a wonderful side dish.
Optional step:Increase the oven to 350. Snip the ties, then tear pork into large chunks. Some of the fat will still be visible internally. Discard the grease from the roasting pan as well as the rack, then put the hunks back in and roast to brown these pieces further, kind of what you do for carnitas.