I love me a good pork shoulder roast recipe, like this superlative tagliatelle with braised pork, for one primary reason: the longer you cook it, the better it smells. I remembered this fact a few days ago as I was digging through my chest freezer, and came across an 8-pound Boston butt roast hiding amid the white paper-wrapped packages of lamb and beef. This huge chunk of porky goodness had been languishing in the deep freeze for a few months, waiting for a special occasion. I decided to declare a random holiday and make said special occasion an immediate thing.
For those unfamiliar with the terms pork butt and “Boston butt,” no, we weren’t eating the ass-end of our dearly-departed porcine friend (incidentally, that’s usually reserved for ham). A Boston butt is actually a pork shoulder roast. Wikipedia defines the Boston butt roast as the following:
Boston butt is a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone. This pork cut, from the shoulder, combined with the way it prepared and served, makes it a distinctly American dish. Smoked or barbecued Boston butt is a southern tradition. As a mainstay of Deep South cuisine, particularity in Alabama and Georgia, it is often smoked and sold as a fundraiser on road side stands by charities and local organizations.
So the “butt” is the meaty area of the pig’s shoulders that traverses the spine. Got it? Good.
It took an entire day to defrost this massive pork shoulder roast in a bath of cool water, and then I had to decide what to do with it. Should I make pulled pork? Or carnitas? I thought about all the ways I could roast this bad boy, and in the end I decided to smother it with a spicy-sweet mixture of seasonings and sugar so that the skin would crisp up like cracklins. I knew that if I roasted it slowly over the course of a full 24-hour day, in the end I’d have the most tender pork roast known to man. So into the oven it went, at about 11pm the night before we were going to eat.
I awoke the next morning to the most incredible aroma. The scent of ginger and gently smoked brown sugar drifted through the house, meandering into my bedroom and nudging me out of a dream. It pulled me to the kitchen, and when I opened up the oven to get a glimpse of my fragrant prize, now eight hours into roasting, a burst of cinnamon and ginger playfully smacked me in the face. It smelled just like the gingersnaps my grandmother used to make, only with the more sultry, savory note of slowly cooking meat.
Dear lord, I wish that I could share that smell with you right now. If you’re even remotely a slave to your olfactory gland, then making this pork shoulder roast recipe will be worth it just for the scent alone.
Now that I’ve made myself hungry all over again, I’m going to share this killer recipe with you. It was inspired by my all-time favorite meat cookbook, The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall. If you don’t have this book already, I can’t recommend it enough.
- 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 whole star anise
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 Boston butt or other bone-in pork shoulder roast, 6-8 pounds
- 5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed or smashed with the side of a heavy knife
- 4 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
- 2 teaspoons dried red chilis
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 teaspoons peanut or sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon gluten free tamari, or soy sauce
- 1 cup hot water
- In a small pan, heat the cumin seeds until they become fragrant. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Combine cumin seeds, cinnamon stick pieces, cloves, peppercorns, star anise, and ground ginger in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle (or use a coffee grinder). Grind to a relatively fine powder and store in an airtight jar, away from heat and light.
- Rearrange oven racks to accommodate your roasting vessel and preheat oven to 450°F (232°C).
- Using a very sharp knife, score the rind of the pork in parallel lines about 1/2-inch apart. Make the cuts about 1/2-inch deep.
- In a mortar and pestle, mash garlic and fresh ginger to a rough paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, use the side of a heavy knife to mash the two together against a cutting board, over and over again until you get a rough paste. Place garlic and ginger in a small bowl, and mix with chili flakes, brown sugar, salt, oil, and tamari. Add 1 tablespoon of spice mix to paste and mix well.
- Fit your roasting vessel with a rack to keep the roast off the bottom of the pan – this will keep the outside crispier. Place the roast skin-side up on the rack and rub half of the spice paste over the skin, making sure to really get it into the scored cuts, nooks, crannies and hidden pockets hiding in the meat. Set the rest of the spice paste aside.
- Place the roast uncovered in the center of a preheated 450°F (232°C) oven for 30 minutes to crisp the skin. After 30 minutes, remove roast from oven and carefully turn over the roast so that the underside is now on top. Be careful not to burn yourself or tear the now-soft fat layer under the skin.
- Using a wooden spoon, smear the remainder of the spice paste over the now-upper surface of the meat. Pour a cup of hot water into the roasting pan (not over the roast!) and turn the oven down to 225°F (108°C). Place the roast back in the oven, again uncovered, where it shall stay for another 16-24 hours. Be sure to turn the roast halfway through, so that the skin layer is again on top. While turning, be sure not to tear the fat layer under the skin.
- About half an hour before the roast is to be removed from the oven, turn the heat back up to 450°F (232°C) and allow the skin to crisp for 20 or so minutes, but be sure to keep an eye on it and remove it from the oven at the first sight or smell of burning char. Allow roast to rest for 45 minutes to an hour before serving.
- At this point your pork shoulder roast should be nearly spoonably tender, with a crispy layer or crackled skin along the top. To serve, remove the skin in one big piece and break the meat of the roast into pieces with a couple of forks. Serve on warmed plates with a chunk of crackled skin and your favorite mashed potatoes recipe.
- Leftover pork can be kept in the fridge and makes for incredible sandwiches or the perfect addition to a griddle hash recipe.