Pork Sybil

This recipe is my adjustments to Sybil’s modifications of a recipe by Molly Stevens in her book All About Braising. I am deeply, gravely saddened that I didn’t learn this recipe forty years ago because everybody loves it. Don’t let the long list of ingredients and many steps threaten you, as it’s easy. And if you don’t have one of the ingredients, substitute something else.

One 4 1/2 to 5-pound (2 kilos or so) boneless pork shoulder roast, preferably Boston Butt. For a special occasion, you could use a fresh ham roast (by which I mean a big chunk of muscle from the upper hind leg of a pig).

Salt and freshly ground pepper and/or hua jiao, 花椒 , “flower pepper,” the Sichuan peppercorns.

2 tablespoons oil…or better yet, rendered pork fat.

1 medium leek, or an onion, or maybe a couple of stalks of fresh green garlic, about 1 cup, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, coarsely chopped

6 cardamom pods, husks split and discarded, seeds lightly crushed

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon cayenne or 1 teaspoon chile powder or better yet, a couple of seeded and chopped jalapeños, more if you like them since the long cooking reduces their piquancy

1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and bruised (if you didn’t have fresh green garlic)

3 strips orange zest removed with a vegetable peeler (each about 3 inches by 3/4 inch)

1 bay leaf or a California bay leaf (Umbellularia californica)

2 tablespoons apricot brandy or Cognac

½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth

2 cups chicken or duck stock

1 cup dried apricots or prunes, about 6 1/2 ounces. In the best version of this recipe I ever made, I used a dozen fresh apricots plus a large handful of those French plums called prunes that had been dried, in other words, prune prunes.

  1. Heat the oven to 250º (110º Celsius)
  2. Trim away any especially thick fat, but leaving some will improve the flavor. Roll and tie the pork.
  3. Pat the pork dry with paper towels. Season all over with salt and plenty of black pepper or hua jiao. Pour the oil or fat into a Dutch oven or other deep, lidded pot that will hold the pork snugly (4 or 5 quart size works well), and heat over medium-low heat. Lower the pork into the pot with tongs and sear it to well browned on all sides, but not burned. This will take something like half an hour. Transfer the pork to a plate.
  4. Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, and return the pot to medium heat. Add the leek or onion and carrots, stir in the crushed cardamom, turmeric, and cayenne or jalapeños, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften but not take on much color, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the ginger, garlic, orange zest, and bay leaf and cook until the spices are quite fragrant, another 2 minutes.
  6. Pour the brandy into the pot. Bring to a boil and boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release any caramelized bits, until reduced by half, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the wine and let it boil for 4 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot with the spoon.
  8. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the apricots or prunes and boil for another 2 minutes.
  9. Lift the pork with the tongs and set it on top of the vegetables and fruit. Pour in any accumulated juices from the plate. Bring the liquid to a minimal simmer and spoon some over the pork. Cover the meat with a sheet of parchment paper, pressing down so it almost touches the meat and the edges extend over the sides of the pot by about an inch. (If you have a pot with a lid that fits tightly, the parchment is not necessary.) Cover the pot and slide it onto a shelf in the lower third of the oven to braise. Periodically give the pork a turn so that both sides spend plenty of time in the liquid. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a minimal simmer.  Toward the end you should check to make sure you’re not running out of liquid.  Continue to braise gently until the pork is fork-tender to falling apart, which should take 5-6 hours.
  10. Remove the pork from the pot and set it on a platter to catch the juices. Cover loosely with foil and let it rest.
  11. Return the pot to the top of the stove and skim off the excess fat. Remove the bay leaf… and the zests if you like. If the sauce is too thin, reduce it to the consistency of a thick vinaigrette by boiling it over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, perhaps giving it a hit with a stick blender.  Pour any juices which have accumulated under the pork into the sauce, and stir. Adjust to taste for salt and pepper.
  12. Remove the strings from the pork and carve into 1/2 inch (1 cm.) or thicker slices. It will tend to fall apart even if your knife is sharp. No problem. Serve with the sauce.
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