This is how a a big, warm blanket of comfort tastes like. A spoonful of slowly roasted meat that is falling apart, covered with intensely flavored sauce -- slightly sweet, slightly acidic, but not quite so. This is my go-to dish when I want to make people's hearts and tummies sing with happiness. It is also one of the most popular dishes at my dinner parties. It takes three or four days to make, but the best part is -- it's the brine and the oven that do all the work, and you can literally go shopping. (And don't forget the slaw.) —QueenSashy
for the roast
fresh pork picnic shoulder with bone and skin
pitted Medjool dates
salt and freshly grated pepper
for the brine
heads of garlic
black peppercorns, slightly crushed
coriander, slightly crushed
In This Recipe
To brine the pork: Wash the garlic heads and cut them in half cross-wise. Combine all ingredients for the brine in a large pot. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and allow the brine to cool completely. Put the pork shoulder in a large container (6- to 8-quart), skin side up and pour the brine over it. Ideally, the shoulder should be submerged, the skin acting as a lid. If not, press it with a plate and put a heavy object on top. Refrigerate for 36 - 48 hours.
To make the date paste: Heat about a cup and a half of water until boiling. Cut the dates in halves and place them in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over the dates, until they are fully covered in water. Leave until the dates are very soft. (It will take about 15-20 minutes if the dates are soft, but it can take an hour or so if the dates are dry and hard.) Transfer the dates with water into food processor and process until you have smooth puree.
To make the pork: Prepare a large Dutch oven (I use 7 1/4 quart), or similar cooking vessel with a lid. Drain the pork and pat dry. Season generously with salt and pepper. In the Dutch oven heat the oil until it is very hot. Sear the pork all over -- it should be nicely browned. (I sear the skin side too, because an extra touch of Maillard reaction never hurts. But this is optional.) Transfer the pork onto a plate. Discard the oil and fat from the Dutch oven and deglaze with about 1/2 cup of water. Reserve the deglazing liquid.
Preheat the oven to 190°F. Place the pork shoulder back into the Dutch oven. In a large bowl, mix the date paste with the deglazing liquid, mustard and marmite (if using). Mix well. Add 8 cups of water, cider and bay leaves. Pour the liquid into the Dutch oven. The liquid should almost cover the pork. Cover with lid and place in the oven. Cook for about 16 hours, or until the meat is very soft and close to falling apart, yet still pink in the center. (Cooking time will depend on how tough the meat is. Start checking the meat at about 14 hours, but I typically get the desired doneness in about 16 hours for a 6-8 lb picnic.)
Remove the meat from the liquid. Cover with aluminum foil and keep in warm oven. With a large spoon slowly remove the fat from the top of the liquid. Proceed to reduce the liquid. Place the Dutch oven over high heat and bring to boil. Continue to boil on medium high heat until the liquid begins to thicken (this takes quite a bit of time, plan on at least an hour, because it is a lot of liquid.) Once the liquid reduces significantly, reduce the heat to medium -- to prevent from burning -- and then continue to reduce until it reaches the consistency of thin syrup. Remove from the stove and let the glaze cool. (It will thicken more as it cools. If it becomes too thick, add a drop or two of water until it reaches desired consistency.) You will have about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of glaze.
Remove the skin and fat, and separate the meat from the bone. Cut the meat into large chunks or shred it with two forks (it's really up to you). Pour the glaze over the meat. Serve with nice slaw on the side. (Alternatively, you can keep the fat, skin and bone, and let the guests do the "digging". My people love it. In that case, while the liquid is reducing, put the pork, skin side up, under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp up the skin for nicer presentation.)
Note: You can prepare everything up to step five and keep in the fridge overnight. The following day, warm up the meat gently while the glaze is reducing, and serve. The quantities in this recipe work with larger cuts, up to 10 lbs, without increasing the amount of ingredients. But you will have to increase cooking time to about 20 hours up to a full day.
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.