Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Boston Butt

I have slowed down a little on the whole-pig eating lately, mainly because I've been too busy with other stuff to do anything interesting in the kitchen. I finally got back to the program on Sunday with a Boston Butt. I've blogged about cooking a pork butt before, when I made posole. That was before I started my mission, so I decided to cook another one.

I'm not sure why this cut is called "Boston butt," because it doesn't come from that end of the hog. It's the name for the top section of the hog's shoulder, just above the picnic shoulder. (Folks who make BBQ in mass quantities often use the whole pork shoulder, which is a 12 to 15 pound hunk of meat consisting of both the picnic and butt sections.) Since the shoulder is a support muscle, it gets worked hard. Hard work means lots of connective tissue, which means tough meat. These tough cuts benefit greatly from long cooking times at low temperatures that eventually break down the connective tissue and tenderize the meat. The classic methods are smoking (like I did with the picnic shoulder), stewing (as with the posole), and braising. I decided to braise this roast, since I haven't blogged about anything like that.

My recipe came from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, although I don't think anyone would ever guess this recipe was Italian when they saw the ingredients or the result. (I was reminded of this recipe a few months ago when Biggles at Meathenge used a similar recipe for pork chops). It is called "pork roast cooked in the classic Bolognese style."

This is one of those simple recipes that doesn't rely on fancy techniques or a variety of ingredients, yet produces almost magical results. There are four ingredients, and only a handful steps. All it takes is four hours of sporadic attention. The ingredients are:

Our star--a boston butt.

Whole milk--two cups or more.

And a little fat to keep things from sticking. In keeping with the theme (sampling a every part of a pig), I used lard, with a little butter for flavoring. I didn't get a good picture of the lard, since it's just some white stuff in a bucket, but it is real lard.

Here are the steps.

1. In a big dutch oven or stew pot, heat up three tablespoons of fat over medium-high heat. Drop in the roast and brown all sides. This step will help you develop a rich, full, meaty flavor in the final dish. Here's my browned butt:

2. Pour in two cups of milk, and reduce heat to a very low simmer. Partially cover, and go do something else for half an hour. This is what the milk looked like after I put it in the pot:

(This is a really bad picture. In real life, it doesn't look this nasty--it looks good, and smells better.)

3. Turn the roast every half hour or so, keep the dish partially covered, and keep the heat very, very low.

4. Add milk as needed, to keep a low level of liquid in the pot. Keep cooking 'till the meat hits the magical 200 degree mark.

5. Wrap the meat tightly in foil and put it in the oven for a half hour or so to steam and tenderize a little more.

6. Pour the sauce into a wide-mouthed bowl to sit. Skim off the fat once it rises to the top.

Here's the finished product. The low, gentle heat of braising makes the pork melt-in-your mouth tender, and it turns the milk into a magical sauce--golden brown clusters with a roasty, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. You'd never know it was made from milk if you weren't told. I don't make this recipe often enough, because L doesn't like it. She has a problem with the transformation of the milk into sauce. I don't understand that.

Finally, here's Jasper, with the updated parts (boston butt and lard) noted:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Before and during the American Revolutionary War, some cheaper pork cuts were packed into casks or barrels (also known as "butts") for storage and shipment. The way the hog shoulder was cut in the Boston area became known in other regions as "Boston butt". I live with an English lady who knows this as "pork hand and spring", or just "pork hand".