Very few things in life are as good, or as simple as roast pork. The bachelor party tradition among my group of friends is to spit-roast a pig over charcoal. We recently went in on a roaster and put it through it’s paces before my wedding. Spending the afternoon hanging out and watching the pig spin is as near a perfect Saturday as I can imagine. The beauty of roasting pork is that you really don’t have to do much of anything to it, you just have to be very patient and let it get there in it’s own time. Even if you only rub it with salt, it will be fantastic. A few well chosen herbs and spices can make it even better, but you don’t want to overwhelm the awesome goodness that is roast pork. This recipe comes pretty close to replicating what I love about a whole rotisserie pig. If you don’t happen to have a giant roasting pit, or twenty friends to help you eat a whole pig, an oven roasted pork shoulder is a good way to go.
In this recipe starts with an 8 lb skin on picnic shoulder. The higher end grocery stores in my neighbourhood never carry these (one of them doesn’t carry any part of a pig or cow forward of the tenderloin), but they’re a staple at the more budget minded stores. At a dollar a pound, I can’t afford not to cook with pork shoulder. You start by stabbing 1 inch incisions in the skin with a very very sharp knife. This is by far the hardest part of the recipe, but it’s a nice way to get some aggression out. You then fill these incisions with a mixture of lime juice, garlic, salt, oregano, and cumin. More of the mixture gets rubbed onto the meat not covered with skin. The pork goes into the oven, with lime juice drizzled around it. The recipe asks for a roasting pan, but I used a dutch oven, which worked out just fine. After 30 minutes water and vinegar are added to the pan, and it’s left to roast covered for two hours, basting halfway through, and making sure not to get the precious cracklings wet. You then separate the skin from the meat, and roast uncovered for another hour and a half, basting under the skin every 20 minutes. When the skin is crackly and crisp you remove the roast and let it stand for 20 minutes, then carve. It’s served with the defatted pan juices, and cracklings.
The Good: This tastes absolutely fantastic. The meat is rich and succulent, mildly flavoured by the spices, but not so much as to distract you from the porcine bullet to the taste centers of your brain. The cracklings were out of this world. They turned a perfect mahogany, and with an extra sprinkle of salt became the perfect indulgence. Other than getting through the pig skin, the recipe was dead simple, used very easy to find ingredients, and even the poorest students can afford to make it.
The Bad: Preparing this can be a little dangerous. If you don’t have wickedly sharp knives, they’re likely to turn on you when trying to get through the skin. I nearly cut myself. A double edged knife, dagger, shiv, or any other type of stabbing weapon would probably be a lot safer. This recipe also takes quite a long time (count on five hours from start to finish), and sitting around the oven drinking beer has less appeal than the hypnotic rotation of a pig on the spit. That said, there’s very little intervention needed on your part. Making this again I would try to slice it. It kind of fell apart and came away in chunks. It’s basically pulled pork, so why not pull it? Next time I’ll pull the meat, and toss it with a little of the pan juices.
The Verdict: Eight dollars resulted in a fantastic dinner, and out of this world sandwiches for two for most of a week. Beat that. There are amazing things that can be done with pork shoulder, but a lot of them require special equipment, or more intervention on your part than this dish. If you do have a charcoal grill, this dish would probably be even better with long slow offset cooking, regular basting, and some smoke. But turning on the oven sure is a lot simpler, and nearly as delicious.