Large cuts of meat intimidate me a little bit. Give me a pound of hamburger, a whole chicken, or a filet of salmon, and I'm a champ. But place a rack of ribs, a leg of lamb, or a brisket in front of me and I'll have to pause and think for a minute. Or twenty. And look up recipes and look at cookbooks and give myself a pep talk. Then I'll begin.
In my quest to conquer my fear of preparing anything weighing more than one pound, I'm reading books about meat and experimenting a lot in my kitchen with different cuts. I'm on a major pig kick lately and decided to explore the world of slow-cooked pork shoulder. I found a beautiful pork shoulder at the food co-op, vibrant pink meat well-marbled with pure white fat. I'm not afraid of animal fat. Quite the opposite, really. I'm learning that when a well-marbled cut of meat is cooked low and slow, the fat will melt and keep the meat tender and infuse it with yummy rich flavor. Who can argue with that? Bring on the fat.
I chose to prepare it with sauerkraut, sweet potato, apple, onion, and garlic. After consulting The Flavor Bible (my favorite kitchen reference book, hands down), I chose a mixture of sage, rosemary, bay leaf, cumin, and whole black peppercorns to season the dish. A little slicing and dicing and it all went into the slow-cooker. Then I waited.
Success! The cooked pork is so moist and tender that it can be sliced with a spoon. The vegetables and apples are sweet, sour, and salty, swimming in a wonderful seasoned porky broth. The flavors and ingredients in this dish are, admittedly, much better suited for autumn or winter than early spring, but it is wonderful all the same. The heart wants what it wants, what can I say. Hooray for another meat success story! My confidence is growing.
Slow-Cooked Pork Shoulder with Sauerkraut, Sweet Potato, and Apple
Organic pork is free from hormones and antibiotics and will yield a more flavorful, moister meat. Try looking for locally-produced and responsibly raised pork at your local farmer's market, food co-op, or natural foods store. If you can not find it locally, you can find high quality meats for mail-order online. While it is somewhat more expensive than commercial pork, I was able to find locally raised organic pork shoulder for $3.99/pound at the food co-op, which I consider a great deal for such high quality meat.
The herbs and cumin add a touch of complexity and nice flavor to the dish, without being overpowering or heavy. Make sure your herbs and spices are fresh for the best effect. Anything older than a year may be better suited for the compost pile than your kitchen. Buy spices in small amounts, store in airtight containers, and use often for best freshness.
- 1 3-4 pound organic pork shoulder
- 2 apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
- 1 quart sauerkraut, drained and squeezed out
- 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced in wedges
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 tsp dry sage leaves, crushed or rubbed sage (not ground)
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 tsp dry rosemary leaves, crushed
- 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- crushed dried or rubbed sage, freshly cracked black pepper, and unrefined salt, for rubbing on pork
Coat inside of slow-cooker with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Add apples, sweet potatoes, sauerkraut, onion, garlic, rosemary, sage, cumin, and black peppercorns, and stir to mix, then lay in bay leaf and add broth.
Pat pork shoulder dry, then rub with freshly cracked black pepper, unrefined salt, and crushed sage leaves. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, then evenly sear pork shoulder on all sides until lightly browned. Place in crock pot on top of vegetables. Cover and cook on low heat for 9-10 hours, until pork is tender and internal meat temperature reaches 140º F. (NOTE: When I took a temperature after 10 hours of cooking on a 3 1/2 pound cut of meat it was at 168º F. So if you don't have a meat thermometer, you will probably be okay as long as your meat has stayed covered and you've cooked for 9-10 hours.)
Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. You can remove the pork and shred it, and serve vegetables on the side, or serve everything together with a scoop of the broth, like a hearty stew. Either way, it is delicious. For an extra treat, serve with horseradish sauce or whole grain mustard.