Final Recipe: Using french techniques we use a pork shoulder (boston butt) cut and utilize it in three different ways in the same dish: Pork with Espagnole Sauce and Crispy Skin.
The idea for this inspiration is to start on the ground up. A personal goal for this recipe is to truly focus on this ingredient. Protect the integrity of it. Showcase it’s favors and textures. Be the ingredient.
This is a fairly useful approach to recipe development in situations where a certain ingredient is readily available from harvest, you have too much of an ingredient leftover, or you just want to do something new with an ingredient.
We took 5 ingredients that we thought were both unique and unfamiliar and forced ourselves to randomly pick one: Pork Shoulder. (Fun fact: The way the hog shoulder was cut in the Boston area become known as Boston Butt. That’s why this cut is often referred to as Boston Butt.)
If you did a quick search, it is easy to see that Pork Shoulder is a popular ingredient in southern or BBQ cuisine. Namely, pulled pork. It makes a excellent braised meat due to its fat and toughness. For this reason, I decided to stay completely away from preparing the ingredient in this fashion.
Step 1: Research
I learned a lot about meat and dedicated that knowledge to a separate post all about meat which can be found here. I’d recommend reading that post before continuing below.
TL;DR of the research – Meat is built up of three parts: muscle, fat, and connective tissue. Toughness is determined by: location in body, age of animal, and the type of activity. White meat and dark meat are different. The perfect meat is contradictory. You want softness which comes from young animals, but you want flavor which comes from older animals.
A very useful technique, especially for complicated ingredients such as meat, is speaking to the expert on the matter: The Butcher.
I made the mistake of doing research this round by asking the butcher at Albertson’s. He didn’t really have much to help. Next time I’ll visit a speciality shop to get more information. But what the guy did tell me was very helpful: meat delivery times. In my case, Wednesdays at 10 am for meat and Fridays 10 am for seafood. I would highly recommend learning the delivery time at the place you shop. Fresh ingredients make a BIG difference.
Brain bursting of meat knowledge. I starting to focus the research on our ingredient.
A quick discourse on Pigs
- Descendent of the wild boar
- In China, the word “pork” is the same word as the generic term for “meat”
- Pigs have an indiscriminate appetite (similar to me). This was helpful in past civilizations as pigs were able to convert scraps into meat. But with great power comes great responsibility: this also allows pigs to pick up more parasites which led to the religious taboos
- Pork meat is paler (in between chicken and beef) because it uses it’s muscle more intermittently than cattle or sheep (also read: lazy)
A last step in the research process is just getting hands on with your ingredient. Touch it, feel it, figure out it’s parts and flavors. You can research all you want about an ingredient but getting hands on with it has no substitute.
Step 2: Development
Understanding Pork Shoulder
Take a look at the part of the pig that is the pork shoulder:
The pork shoulder is used during walking and standing. Given that, from our research we can extrapolate that meat from there will be relatively tough due to the activity, will be dark due to prolonged efforts, will contain different muscles due to the different types of activity, and will have connective tissue due to the different muscles.
It makes sense why people chose to go the slow, long cooking technique when it comes to this cut. While pulled pork sounds delicious right now, I am going to continue to aim to be innovative with this cut. We have already learned so much about it, why create what everyone else has already.
It was with the initial understanding of meat and pork shoulder, along with the mission for this inspiration (focus on the ingredient) that I started to piece together my concept.
The pork shoulder is such a diverse cut of meat and I didn’t learn this until I kept digging and trying to learn more about it. And that is how I started to move towards the concept for this ingredient: Why not display it’s individual components.
Pork Shoulder can be broken down two different ways:
- By type of cut: Boston Butt, Pork Blade, and Smoked Cottage Roll
- Or by type of body part: Fat/Skin, Bones, Lean Meat, and Tougher Meat
Starting idea: Menage a Pork Shoulder. Or Pork Shoulder a trois. Still haven’t decided.
Step 3: Draft
I start putting things together and here is a screen shot of my journal at this point:
So I want to focus on this ingredient and knowing that there are different parts to this cut I am leaning towards taking those three parts and preparing them in different ways, and then putting them together to create a dish. The bones/meat can make a stock then sauce, the tender meat can be a focal point, and then the fat/skin can be made into a topping for contrast.
There were three parts to this phase: Idea, General Recipe, and Visualization of the final plate.
Idea #1: Grilled Pork Shoulder with Espagnole (brown french sauce), either topped with crunchy pork or on the side
1. Creating a stock
- Take bones and meat attached of the pork shoulder and roast them
- Quick Boil to clean (~15 min)
- Boil to remove scum (~30 min)
- Added charred/roasted shallots and garlic (unpeeled), cut in half, nicely burnt
- Add any other flavoring herbs and spices in a cheese cloth
- Cook pressure cooking (~2 hours) or if using a pot (~4 hours) adding water as necessary
2. Creating the sauce
- Reduce, thicken, deglaze, add wine to the stock
We can approach the tender meat in many different ways. We can cook it sous-vide followed by a sear to create a moist meat, we can marinate and bbq it to get that smoky flavor that goes very well with pork, or we can brine it over night and then grill it on a pan.
I am leaning towards either sous vide or brining it then grilling it–both should have the same effect of creating a juicy meat. We don’t need to do anything fancy to this cut as we already have two other components. Let’s keep it medium-rare.
We will want to roast or fry this to get a nice crunch in contrast to the rest of our ingredients. We can then choose to crush it and sprinkle on top, or we can shape it and stand it next to the main meat for some “plate detailing”.
As I was creating the recipe for the stock, I also thought that I could stop there and create a full ramen dish using the three different parts of the pork shoulder.
Idea #2: Pork Shoulder Ramen
Follow the steps as above except don’t roast bones as we want the stock to look clean
Cut very thin and keep raw. It will cook when you pour the ramen broth into the bowl.
Same as above. Fry or roast to get a crunch and then use as a topping.
And that’s it! No other major ingredients. We are all about that Pork Shoulder. The picture in my journal has two basic visualizations to the two different ideas.
The time has come where I must pass this onto the East Coast. We haven’t talked about this outside of what is in this post, I have just let her know that the post is ready for her to pick up.
The last time I made pork shoulder – the prep time was 8 minutes total. I chopped some garlic (3 min), threw it into a slow cooker with the pork shoulder (1 min), made it rain some cumin, soy sauce, hoisin sauce(1 min), and set the heat on High. I turned the pork shoulder twice during the 5 hour cooking process (2 min), and basted it with the cooking juices (1 min). The result? A tender piece of juicy meat easily torn apart with two forks, complete with gelatinous, jiggly, almost translucent pork skin. I gobbled it down over rice, noodles, and pasta for a whole week.
Slow cooker pork shoulder is one of my go-to recipes. I have it down to a science. Feeling Chinese? Throw in a handful of cloves and star anise. Feeling Mexican? Toss in half a packet of taco seasoning. Prep for my slow cooker pork shoulder never takes more than 10 minutes. The result is always delicious, but I felt like I was becoming complacent with my routine.
So when West Coast presented the idea of Pork Shoulder Three Ways, I welcomed the challenge. I’m looking forward to comparing the difference textures between the meat and skin, plus making broth from scratch. Pork shoulder 3 ways, here we go!
1 Whole Bone-in Pork Shoulder
Part 1 – The Broth
1 Cup Chopped Carrots
2 Cloves Crushed Garlic
1 Pinch Cilantro
Part 2 – The Meat
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 Tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Orange Marmalade
2 Cups Water
Part 3 – The Skin
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cumin
1/2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
Part 4 – The Sauce
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp Chopped Shallots
1 Clove Minced Garlic
1 Splash Red Wine
1 Pinch Herb of Choice (I used cilantro)
I found this beauty at the neighborhood meat market and lugged it home- 7.8 pounds of bone-in whole pork shoulder. Be sure to get the whole, since the half pork shoulder does not include the bone – we need it for broth!
Skinning and boning the pork shoulder took quite a bit of elbow grease, but after 20 minutes, I had this.
And after another 20, this.
Thank the cooking gods for my boning knife! Highly recommended for this task.
Since the broth was going to be the bottleneck of this entire operation, I wanted to get started on it right away. Per West Coast’s tip, I roasted the bone for maximum flavor in the oven for 400 degrees for 30 minutes, and added it to the stock pot with 1 cup chopped carrots, 2 cloves crushed garlic, and 1/2 an onion that I charred on the stove burner.
After filling the whole pot with water, I brought the mixture to a quick boil, then turned the heat down to the lowest simmer for a looooooooooooooooooong day of boiling.
12 Hours Later…
We have broth! The liquid was reduced to 1/3 of the original amount. The liquid was thick, and the onions practically melted into the broth. I threw in a pinch of cilantro, and let it cook for 30 more minutes.
Then, I strained the mixture through cheesecloth.
Ta-daa! By the end, we only ended up with about 3 cups of broth. I’m glad that I didn’t choose the ramen option, there wouldn’t have been enough broth from this one bone! I am quite tempted to whip up some tonkotsu broth from pig trotters and chicken feet soon, but we can save that for another time.
So while the broth was simmer away, I got to work on the meat. To create a marinade, I needed something sweet, and something salty. For salt, I used simple table salt. For sweet, I found some brown sugar. Then, I rummaged through the fridge and found a jar of marmalade. Why not? Southern cooking had long used orange juice to brine their meats. For our French-inspired pork, orange marmalade will do just fine. I mixed the seasoning together into 2 cups of warm water, and covered our meat to marinade over night.
After over night marinading, the meat was ready for the pan. I trimmed the meat into steaks for more even cooking (about 1/2 inch thickness), fried up some chopped shallots in butter, and slid the pork steaks into a sizzling pan.
On high heat, I cooked the steaks for 3 minutes on each side for a nice char. I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, and places the pan inside for 15 minutes.
After you remove the pork from the oven, don’t be so quick to wash the pan! We’ll need it for the sauce, I’ll show in a bit 🙂
I wanted the skin to be crispy and chicharron-like, with a dust of seasoning that packs some heat to serve as a topping for our pork.
To start, I laid out the skin flat, and did my best to scrape off the layer of fat under the skin. This step is essential (!), otherwise the skin would not crisp up in the oven.
I sprinkled the skin with some salt and roasted it in the oven at 400 degrees for 90 minutes. The outcome? Golden, crispy pork skin still sizzling in its own fat.
I dusted these with a mixture of salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin. Since the skin still smelled a bit porky, I wanted the scent of cumin to kind of cover the scent a bit. Plus cumin is delicious!
Taking the pan from the oven, you’ll see that it’s studded with bits of pork, slightly burnt shallots, and tons of melted lard. Don’t frown at its ugliness, it will make for an amazing sauce.
Add a tbsp of butter into the pan and put it back on the burner on high. Add shallots and fry until those are golden. Then add the broth we made into the pan. Carefully scrape the stuck bits into the broth.
My broth became jelly after being stored in the fridge – look at all that gelatin goodness you won’t find in store bought broth.
After about 10 minutes, I added a splash of red wine into the pan and continued to cook on high heat, stirring constantly. We are aiming for a thicker consistency.
When the sauce begins to cling to the spatula, it is ready. I threw in a pinch of cilantro for extra flavor, but feel free to use whichever fresh herbs you refer. Thyme, anyone?
I could not eat pork without some carbs, so I made some roasted potatoes for a side dish. I cut up 5 small red potatoes in half, tossed them with 1 tbsp of canola oil, 1 tsp of sea salt, a tsp of black pepper, a tbsp of dried rosemary, and threw it in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.
I took the pork steak and ladled espagnole sauce on top. Pork skin was added as a crunchy topping. And potatoes added as a side.
Pork L’Orange with Espagnole (French Brown Sauce) – Side of Roasted Red Potatoes with Rosemary
East – Overall, the pork is juicy and flavorful and potatoes are a nice mild off set for the flavor pork. Here are all the ways I would improve this recipe going forward.
- I liked the taste of orange with pork, but it was barely detectable in the final product. Some orange zest right before serving would be great to help the diner pick out the taste.
- Even though the crispy skin is a great textural contrast – It was hard to eat. To make it more chicharron or pork-rind like would require more prep and a fryer. Would it be totally un-gourmet if I used store bough pork rind?
- Alternatively, we can do a side dish with braised small pieces of skin with mushrooms and onions.
- Your thoughts – West Coast? Wish you could have tasted it!
West – I think we did a pretty good job for our first time.
- East coast definitely surpassed my expectations, although we need to work on her photography skills
- The transition from development to creation went pretty smoothly, I understand now a few more areas I need to detail during the development including the plating
- I preferred my dish name of Pork Shoulder a Trios
On to the next.