I’m not going to tell you that slow-roasting a pork shoulder is the quickest path to dinner – far from it – but, for a weekend cooking project, it definitely pays off in spades.
There are actually two different cuts that get called pork shoulder: “Boston butt” and “picnic shoulder.” Either is fine for this, but do get bone-in and if possible, pasture-raised. Boston butt is easier to find but I tend to look for picnic because it’s usually sold skin-on and I like to make crackling.
True, there is a bit of planning involved here but most of the time is inactive and the end result is so worth it. It’s perfect for a relaxed kind of party (the best kind, in my opinion) where people don’t mind getting messy or sparring over bits of crunchy pork skin.
I combined two recipes here, one is Momofuko-style with a sweet/tart glaze from Bon Appétit (I love the flavors but it didn’t include crackling). The other is a Jamie Oliver recipe which I used mainly as a technique to get crispy skin.
What you wind up with is a huge pile of delicious pulled pork with a tart vinegary glaze and a sheet of crackling that you can cut up and distribute as you like (or eat by yourself when no one’s looking). This would be perfect on its own or in tacos, quesadillas, grilled-cheese sandwiches (try one with bleu cheese!). I definitely recommend making something pickled to go along-side (we made both Quick-Pickled Red Onions and Sweet & Sour Pickled Radishes). We also made a version of this Asian Cabbage Salad, but without fennel since we didn’t have any.
We meant to take a picture of the pork coming out of the oven, but Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 1 was just starting and … well, there are some things you just don’t trust your DVR with.
We also meant to take a picture of the crackling … but we ate it.
Pulled-Pork Sandwich with Pickled Onions and Radishes
For Pork Shoulder
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup course kosher salt plus more
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 7 –8-lb. bone-in pork shoulder Boston butt or picnic
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cabbage and Fennel Slaw
For Pork Shoulder
- IF SKIN IS STILL ON: Place the pork on a clean work surface, skin-side up. Using a small very sharp knife, make scores about an inch apart through the skin into the fat, but not so deep that you cut into the meat. If your cut doesn’t have skin, skip this step. You can score in strips or cross-hatch, depending on how you want your crackling.
- Crush fennel seeds and peppercorns with the bottom of a heavy skillet, or in a mortar and pestle. Transfer spices to a small bowl; add 1/4 cup salt and sugar. Rub mixture all over shoulder, including in the slits, if skin is on. Place in a large glass baking dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.
- Preheat to 425°F
- Take pork out of the refrigerator 1 1/2 hours before cooking and let it come to room temperature. If skin is on, wipe the sugar/salt off with a damp paper towel as best you can (so it won’t burn). If no skin, just brush off any extra salt or spices clinging to the meat.
- Place the pork, skin (or fat)-side up, in a roasting tray and pop in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes until the skin puffs a bit (or the fat browns).
- At this point, turn the heat down to 325°F
- Add 1 cup boiling water to pan and cover the pork snugly with a double layer of tinfoil, pop back in the oven and roast for a further 5 hours.
- Take the foil off and check the roast. It should be very tender. If the skin needs further crisping, turn the heat up to 500°F and let it brown for 5-10 minutes but watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn!
- Transfer pork to a rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Strain the fat from the liquid and and pour the de-fatted juices into a small saucepan. Stir in 1/4 cup vinegar and brown sugar and bring liquid to a boil. Cook, occasionally spooning off fat from surface, until a thick, syrupy glaze forms, about 10 minutes (there will be about 1 1/2 cups glaze). Season glaze with salt and pepper as needed; set aside and use as gravy.
- Lightly toast buns. If pork is cold, heat it in a small skillet until warm and crispy and moisten with glaze. Add 1 cup of pulled pork to each bottom bum. Top with a few pickled onion rings and a few pickled radishes. Add a few sprigs of cilantro or watercress and top with other half of the bun.