Long-braised Pork with Classical Winter Herbs

finished pork plate

I thought we were out of winter, but the 20 degree nights have me covering our flower beds with blankets and bringing in the container plants. It felt right to use woodsy winter herbs in this classical pork braise, then. I cooked spare ribs the other night and trimmed off the section of meat that is attached above the ribs – the rib tips. This section has meat running about eighty different directions and it’s shot through with pieces of cartilage. I don’t cook it with the ribs because it never cooks quite the same as the rest and let’s be honest – nobody is really fighting over that section at dinner. Americans don’t eat cartilage. Off it went into the fridge to be braised over the weekend.

I’ve never cooked one of these separately, but I have extensive knowledge of braised pork. This was going to be a good cut for it, too. It has enough fat and collagen in it that it will stay moist and also shred easily. I used my standard technique, which starts with putting a golden sear on the meat so that it gets caramelized flavors.

searing off

It takes about four minutes a side, and then they go into the smallest casserole that will fit them. Alton Brown said years ago that space is not your friend in a braise – you want all those flavors right next to each other. You also want the meat sitting about halfway into the braising liquid, and with a big pot, that’s a lot of liquid – which will dilute your pan juices.

herbs in crock

In the crock, I put a few sprigs of thyme; three bay leaves from my tree; a pinch of sage (which can be powerful), a teaspoon of salt, and a sprig of rosemary. You can add these flavors in at the beginning even though we’re going to cook them for several hours because they are stout enough to stand up to the long cooking time. Regardless, if you want to be more cheffy, save adding them until the final hour – you’ll have more intense flavor that way.

I poured water (boring water) into the casserole so that it came halfway up the side of the meat. We’re braising, not boiling here. I used water because you’ll cook the hell out of any stock or wine you use and it’s a waste of a good liquid otherwise. Better to add that kind of flavor toward the end of the cooking time.

I covered it and into the oven it went at 300 degrees for three and a half hours. It’s ready to pull out when it’s falling-apart tender.

ready to shred

Let it rest on a cutting board for ten to fifteen minutes, whole. It’s still scaldingly hot from the oven and the hot fat will burn your fingers (ask how I know). In the meantime, pour off and filter the pan juices. Separate off the fat from the liquid and discard, putting the remaining juice into a bowl. Pinch off a piece of pork – does it need salt? If it does, add a small amount to the juices. Add in a few drops of vinegar, too. You’re building up a flavorful and seasoned sauce that you’ll toss the pork in, so this is the best way to deliver last-minute flavor.

When the meat is warm but able to be handled, dig in and shred it up. Toss the pork with the juices and serve it with something light. Here, I made asparagus with lemon zest and boiled new potatoes with butter and scallions. Pair it with white wine and a beautiful woman and you’ve got the beginning of a stellar Saturday night.