Pork shoulder is a great answer to the question of what's for dinner — and lunch and dinner again.
Pork shoulder is a great answer to the question of what’s for dinner — and lunch and dinner again. I have a 5-year-old daughter, a 3-year-old son, my husband and my mother to feed. I also have a full-time job. When I can get one roast to last two or three meals, it’s a winner on value and efficiency.
While pork shoulder is commonly used for barbecued pulled pork, it lends itself to any number of cooking methods. I love that I can braise it on the stove, roast it in the oven or leave it in the slow cooker while I’m at work. I also can slice it thin, marinate it and grill it on skewers or stir-fry it with vegetables.
Also known as pork butt or blade roast, the cut comes from the top portion of the front leg of the hog and is well-marbled, which means it’s full of flavor and fairly forgiving in that the marbling helps to keep the meat moist.
For its versatility, shoulder is relatively inexpensive at about $3 per pound for naturally raised pork or, when on sale, about $2 per pound. (Organic, pasture-raised or heirloom breed pork prices can be twice as much or more.)
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Recently, I bought a 3-pound piece of pork shoulder from Uwajimaya on sale for $1.99 per pound. It’s usually $2.99 per pound. I was able to use this shoulder over the course of three meals and this is how I did it:
Braise it first: I cut the shoulder into three chunks and combined them in the slow cooker with 1 cup orange juice; ½ cup soy sauce; 1 cup water; 1 whole yellow onion, peeled and halved; 5 cloves peeled and gently smashed garlic; and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. This cooked on high for 4 hours (or you can cook for 6 hours on low). Once the pork is tender, remove the pieces from the broth. Strain and reserve the braising liquid. Keep the onion, too. You will need to use a fat separator or just chill the liquid and the fat will solidify and you can scrape it off the top. Shred the pork, removing any large bits of connective tissue. Refrigerate any of the meat or liquid that won’t be served immediately.
Tacos or lettuce wraps: Because my kids are very different eaters, I try to offer a little flexibility while still maintaining the one-dinner-for-all philosophy. So on the first night, I used the pork as the filling for soft tacos and lettuce wraps. For tacos, we had warm tortillas, shredded cheese, lettuce, salsa, sour cream and such. For lettuce-wraps accompaniments, we had butter-lettuce leaves, a carrot and cucumber salad, hot sauce and cilantro.
Pasta: The remaining pork was used in a Bolognese-inspired sauce. Finely dice carrots and celery, about ½ cup of each. Finely chop the reserved onion that was used to flavor the braising liquid. Sauté the vegetables until soft in a saucepan or Dutch oven. Add one 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes. Add about ½ cup of water to the tomato can, swish it around and add to the pan. Stir and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste, and ½ teaspoon of dried oregano. Add the shredded pork and stir gently to combine. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, or longer depending on how much time you have. You can add red pepper flakes, if you’d like. Serve with pasta.
Soup: With the leftover pasta and sauce, I made “refrigerator soup.” I took the reserved braising liquid, skimmed off the fat and combined it with an equal amount of water. I added some more chopped carrots and celery. You can add zucchini, mushrooms or other vegetables of your choice. Let the soup and vegetables simmer until tender. Add the pasta and stir to combine. I threw in a handful of peas toward the end. Taste for seasoning and serve.
Hsiao-Ching Chou is the former food editor at the Seattle P-I and a freelance food writer.