ATLANTA — Let me tell you about one of my favorite recipes for pork butt. I started with a four-pound chunk of meat from a farmers market.
When I unwrapped it and saw that it had a 2-inch-thick layer of fat, I first thought that I had paid a lot of money for fat. But it gave me an idea.
If I were to braise this pork as I normally do with a similar cut, then I would end up skimming the fat till my arm gave out. I could try my hand at barbecue, which would have required both cleaning the grill and putting my self worth as a male in the South on the line.
So instead I placed the pork butt on a rack in a roasting pan, smeared crushed garlic cloves over the top with plenty of coarse salt and cracked pepper, then blanketed it with garden herbs — sage, thyme and rosemary.
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I covered the top tightly with foil, stuck it in a low oven set to 250 degrees, and then figured I’d take it out in about five hours, when everyone was supposed to come home for dinner.
Plans change. My kid went to a friend’s house. My wife and I decided to meet in a restaurant for a quick bite and a cocktail and then hit an art opening. We bumped into people and stayed out late.
At around 11 p.m. we got back home to a house that smelled like a special kind of air freshener for carnivores. An odor of sizzling, garlicky fat. A heavy porkiness hung in the atmosphere.
I let out a quick string of expletives and told my wife I had left this roast in the oven for 12 hours. I pulled it out and ripped off the tin foil.
Then, of course, we proceeded to eat half the pork with our hands. Holy mother of Wilbur, I couldn’t imagine coming back to any better late-night food.
A pork butt — which comes from the shoulder atop the foreleg — can take all the time in the world and keep getting better. Just make sure to cook it low and slow, and never give up.
The pork butt has become my go-to Sunday dinner as well as the dish that I cook for company when I’ve thought about everything but the main course and decide the meal needs a hunk of meat somewhere in there.
If I can get local pork, I will. The flavor is somehow both cleaner and porkier. But I am no stranger to the no-name butt shrink-wrapped in the supermarket.
Either will be delicious, whether you slow roast it or cook it as I do below. I know this recipe sounds like heavy winter fare, but I promise it isn’t. Have it with a spring vegetable salad and a chilled Beaujolais.
PORK BRAISED IN COCA-COLA
Makes 6-8 servings
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt
1 tablespoon cooking oil 1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
1 (12-ounce) can Coca-Cola
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup sake, Chinese cooking wine, dry vermouth or white wine
1 ounce fresh ginger, scrubbed and cut into thick coins
1 piece star anise 4 whole cloves
Trim the thick fat from the pork and cut into 2-by-2-inch cubes. Salt well. Heat oil in a Dutch oven with a heavy fitted lid, and brown meat on all sides. Remove meat to a holding plate. Empty pot and discard grease. Fry onion in bottom of pot until it wilts, then add the Coke, soy sauce and sake, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits. Add meat with its pooled juices and the ginger, star anise and cloves. Bring to a simmer and cover. Braise meat until very tender, about 3½ to 4 hours, turning occasionally. Serve with rice and a daub of hot Chinese mustard, if desired.