Holiday Happiness With Perfect Pork Shoulder and Crunchy Crackling

One of the most deliciously useful bits of knowledge I have gained so far in my time in London: how to roast a perfect pork shoulder, complete with addictive crunchy little strips of crackling on the top. At Rambling Restaurant a few weeks ago, chef foodrambler made a classic Sunday roast from the excellent River Cottage MEAT book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. While flipping through the cookbook, I happened upon this recipe for Aromatic Shoulder of Pork ‘Donnie Brasco,’ so named because you can put it in the oven on low heat overnight and ‘fuhgeddaboutit.’ Oh Hugh F-W, you are hilarious. Also, a meat genius.

Since the mere reading of the recipe made my stomach grumble with longing, we decided to make the pork shoulder for three consecutive Rambling Restaurant suppers. After a day’s worth of roasting, you pry apart the brittle outer shell of crackling and dig through a shuddering layer of burning hot pork fat to find the most perfect, tender, juicy, falls-apart-with-the-tug-of-a-fork meat. Shredded with two dueling forks and bathed in an impromptu soy-hoisin-chili-garlic-leftover spring roll dipping sauce mixture, we had guests raving that it was the best pulled pork they’d ever tasted.  And so I recreated it for my family back home in Boston, introducing them to the joy that is garlic and spice-rubbed, high heat-blasted pig skin.  Here’s the recipe so you can do it yourself, very very slightly adapted from Hugh F-W’s recipe in ingredients and time, should you decide at lunch that pork shoulder is essential for dinner, without quite enough time to ‘fuhgeddaboutit.’

Ridiculously Delicious Roast Pork Shoulder With Crackling

What You Need:

A large hunk of pork shoulder with skin – mine was about 8 pounds and fed 8 people
Five cloves of smashed garlic
A thumbsize piece of peeled ginger, if you had impressively large thumbs
1 tbsp chili flakes
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp Chinese five-spice
4 tbsp salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp white pepper
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce

Also helpful if you want gravy:

Stock (in a perfect and happy world,  freshly homemade from the carcass of the ever-giving Samson the Turkey of the previous day’s Thanksgiving extravaganza)
A few shakes of flour
Soy sauce
Red Wine
Chili Sauce

What You Do:

1. Take a very sharp knife and score the pork skin into parallel lines about a centimeter apart, which means attempting the slightly awkward process of cutting into the skin deep enough to reach the fat but not so deep to cut into the meat. It feels sort of wrong,  but it will make you happy in about six hours when you have crackling in hand.

2. Dice the garlic and ginger and mix with the spices and liquids to form a chunky paste. I did this by hand, but even better if you’ve got a mortar and pestle.

3. Give the skin side of the pork a nice deep tissue massage with half of the tasty paste, then place it skin-side up on a rack in a roasting tray. Then you can make tasty gravy with the meat juices below.  Blast the meat for half an hour at 450º.

4. After what Hugh F-W calls the ‘half-hour sizzle’, grab a pair of oven mitts and flip over the shoulder. If you have the ability, it is particularly amusing to make your little sister stand by the oven holding the scorchingly hot hunk of heavy meat while you do something, I can’t remember what. Once you allow her to put the meat back in the tray upside down, rub the other side with the rest of the, um, rub.  In case you have no common sense, I will remind you not to do this with your bare hands and to use a wooden spoon instead.

5.   Pour a glass of water into the roasting tray, bring the temperature down to 300º and leave the meat to slowly increase in tastiness for about six hours. Adjust temperature accordingly depending on how much time you have – Hugh F-W does 16-24 hours at 110º, I increased the heat because I only had 6 hours instead of overnight. If you’re not sure, just make sure the internal temp is at least 165º before pulling the shoulder from the oven. Regardless of cooking time, flip and baste the meat halfway through.

6. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to eat, turn  the heat back up to 450º to get your crackling all crispety crunchety.

7.  When the meat is done and cooling, you can make a quick and meaty gravy by heating some of the pork fat from the roasting tray and whisking with a few shakes of flour to make a roux. Then pour in the rest of the pan drippings, stock, some soy sauce, a bit of chili sauce, some red wine, whatever you’ve got around that tastes good.  The sauce will thicken and become awesome.

8. Eat pork, audaciously bathed in prodigious amounts of spicy, meaty sauce. Allow to melt into mouth. Crunch into a few happy little strips of crackling. Serve, if at all possible, with leftover stuffing/mashed potatoes/cheddar and scallion scones/homemade bread and finish off with leftover pie. Feed (and impress) your whole family with pork and happiness. Oh, how I love the holidays…

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5 thoughts on “Holiday Happiness With Perfect Pork Shoulder and Crunchy Crackling

  1. olivia says:

    why don’t i eat pork again?

  2. mei says:

    that is an excellent question. one that you may want to consider reconsidering.

  3. Lisa says:

    Most of my family was snowed in up in the Twin Cities, but Mom and I LOVED your pork shoulder at our Christmas dinner. Plenty of left overs for when the family does arrive!

    Merry Christmas!


  4. yhenme says:

    Thanks for this Mei. This was just the thing I was looking for and I can’t wait to try this later on in the week. I will keep you posted on the results and fingers crossed that it will turn out like your photo 🙂

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