Thursday, January 19, 2017

Old Fashioned Roast Pork Dinner

A few weeks ago, while going over one of my posts from a previous holiday season (Nana's Apple Pie) I began feeling more than a bit nostalgic. Not that it's at all unusual at certain times of the year, for folks to experience a mix of joyful anticipation for the time that we'll be spending with our loved ones, yet tinged with a sense of sadness and longing for the ones who are no longer here to celebrate with us.

But as my thoughts filled with the memories of early childhood Christmases, spent piling into the car after Christmas morning Mass and going straight to Nana's house (or "down home" as Daddy used to say), we'd usually find her busy in the kitchen, wearing one of her trademark pinafore style aprons, with faded red poinsettias or some Currier and Ives holiday print, that I'm sure had been given to her by one of the grandchildren some Christmas before. And she'd be preparing Christmas dinner - you know... the special kind of "dinner" that used to be eaten at 1:00 in the afternoon, on Sundays or other special occasions? And the meals were simple, really. They generally consisted of some kind of incredibly delicious roasted or braised meat with fried, mashed or scalloped potatoes and a vegetable or two, but as simple as they were, they were the most delicious Sunday dinners I can ever remember eating. Dessert (as well as the rest of the meal) was always made from scratch and was often some type of fruit pie, or a simple cake - and it was always just as memorable.

Sadly, I don't have her recipes to follow, but over the years I've worked out my own versions of several of them and I think I've come pretty darned close to what I remember from my childhood. I also think I can safely say that her roast pork was my favorite. Hmmm... come to think of it, I guess it would be a tie between the roast pork and chicken and biscuits. (and if all goes well, that'll be another post one of these days.) But, seeing as the title of this post is Old Fashioned Roast Pork Dinner, let's get on with it, shall we?

Old Fashioned Roast Pork Dinner
Serves 4 (with plenty of leftovers)
  • 5 Lb to 6 Lb Bone-In Pork Shoulder/Butt Roast
  • 4 to 6 Cloves Garlic, thinly sliced
  • Light Soy Sauce (as needed)
  • Light Olive or Vegetable Oil (as needed)
  • 2 Lg Yellow Onions, sliced into eighths
  • 4 Lg Carrots, washed and cut into two-inch lengths
  • 2 to 4 Lg Parsnips, washed and cut into two-inch lengths
  • 4 Stalks Celery, washed and cut into two-inch lengths
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Favorite Seasoning Blend (optional)
  • 4 Tbls Butter, softened to room temperature (for gravy)
  • 4 Tbls All Purpose Flour (for gravy)
  • 2 Cups Chicken Stock (for gravy)
Preheat the oven to 375°F  If using convection, set the temperature at 350°F

In the '80s (when I first began to cook meals on a daily basis), the news media and the magazines, the cooking shows on TV and the pork industry itself, were all proclaiming pork as "the other white meat", so what you'd find highlighted or on sale in the pork section of the meat department, were mostly pork loin roasts, tenderloins and loin chops. The loin is a much more lean cut of pork and while it might be a bit more healthy, it lacks the rich flavor and the tender juicy meat that I remembered as a child at Sunday dinner.

So, when I started trying to replicate those memorable Sunday dinners for my own family, I'd pick up a pork loin roast at the store and roast it up quite nicely, but while those dinners weren't bad I could never quite understand why it was that my roast pork dinners just didn't come close to the flavor or the tenderness of Nana's. I don't know why or when it was exactly, but it finally dawned on me one day, that for all those years I'd been cooking the wrong cut of pork. That single revelation changed my roast pork dinners forever after.

You see, the cut that Nana had used for her roasts back in the day, was actually a bone-in pork shoulder or "butt" and that's a cut that is so much more tender and succulent - when it's been prepared the correct way. Now, when I want to take my taste buds for a stroll down memory lane, back to those Sunday dinners at Nana's house, I pick up a pork shoulder roast - and I've never looked back.

Start your prep work by peeling the garlic cloves. Depending on the sizes of the individual cloves, for this size roast, it took me about three medium and three of the small cloves. If there are any left when you're done, don't worry. As long as they haven't come in contact with the meat or your fingers after touching them, they can be used elsewhere in the recipe or sealed up in an airtight zip-top bag, with a pinch of salt and a touch of light olive oil and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Next, slice each clove lengthwise, so that you have several little garlic "spears". You'll need these shortly, but you can set them aside for a minute.

As I always say, preparation is key when it comes to putting any good meal together, so you want to start prepping the roast by trimming a little bit of the fat from the top. Now that doesn't mean you should go overboard.

Fat equals flavor, my friends and we don't ever want to remove that flavor when we have the choice not to. It helps if your butcher at the grocery store is kind enough to leave a decent amount of the fat cap on the roast so that you can decide for yourself just how much you want to keep or remove. Just look or ask for a roast that hasn't been trimmed within an inch of its life - like the one in the photo above and then do your own "clean up" work at home. You'll find that with a nice sharp paring knife, this job is a breeze.

As you can see, there wasn't a super thick fat cap on this roast, so I was careful not to take too much off. If you're very ambitious, you can have a deep frying pan filled with 375° F oil ready to drop the trimmings into for a little chef's treat - pork rinds! Now, I'm not a huge fan of this snack and frankly, I'm also not that ambitious, so I just discarded mine. 🐖

I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to cross contamination - especially when dealing with pork (and poultry) products. I don't even like to use my plastic cutting boards, so I just lay out a few sheets of waxed or parchment paper to prep my roast.

Once you have that bit of fat removed, take that same knife and using its tip, make several small slits all over the roast, including the sides and bottom.

Be sure to make those slits in the areas where there's still fat left on the meat as well.

Now, start pressing one (or 2 if they're super thin) of the garlic spears into each of the slits in the meat.

Push them as far into the meat as you can because if there's a chunk of garlic that sticks too far out, it will burn during the roasting process and become bitter. That would transfer to the drippings and make a bitter garlicky gravy. A hint of it will show, as you'll see in the upcoming photos, but for the most part, it should lay as flat as possible. If any of them pop out quite a bit as you're handling the roast, just push them back in before putting the roast in the pan and in the oven.

We buy the "Light" or less sodium version of soy sauce because as I'm sure most of you know, the darker soy sauce not only has more salt, but it usually has a higher sugar content as well. Just by its nature, it's the type of product that will caramelize and/or reduce as long as a heat source is introduced, so I like to play it safe and not risk it burning during roasting.

The soy sauce helps to aid in the browning of the meat and it also adds flavor to both the roast and the pan drippings.

I didn't put a specific amount for the soy sauce in the ingredient list, because it's something you really have to eyeball based on the size of the roast. If I really had to put a quantity on it, I'd say I used about an eighth of a cup (2 tablespoons).

Gently massage the soy sauce all over the roast, turning it often to pick up any liquid that has run down onto your prep surface. Once you have it all rubbed in, set the roast aside, wash your hands and get ready to prep your vegetables.

I used onions, carrots, parsnips and celery the I just washed and cut up into large pieces. I make sure to keep them in large pieces so that they can be eaten as a side vegetable with the meal. You can eliminate the parsnips and double the carrots if you really want to, but I recommend trying them, even if you're not familiar with them because they add a very subtle bit of tanginess to perfectly balance out the sweetness of the carrots and onions.

Add two-thirds of the chopped vegetables to the bottom of the pot and drizzle on just enough light olive oil or vegetable oil to barely coat them.

Add a generous teaspoon of Kosher salt...

and about the same amount of freshly ground black pepper.

Give the vegetables a quick toss to incorporate the seasonings and coat the pieces with the oil.

Place the pork roast, fat side up, directly on top of the vegetables because they'll serve two purposes. They provide added flavor to the pan drippings and they act as a natural "rack" for the meat.

If there is any of the soy sauce left on your prep surface pour that right in with everything. Want not, waste not. (Or is it the other way around? I never remember how that goes. lol)

Now sprinkle a bit more Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper onto the meat.

I know that the soy sauce has some sodium in it, but it really is a good sized piece of meat we're seasoning here and it can take the little bit of extra salt.

This last seasoning is optional, simply because it's not available just anyplace. It's a local product that I've shown here in my recipe posts many times. I use it in all sorts of dishes, from marinara sauce to soups and stews, in casseroles and on all types of meats. I even season my long cooking Jasmati rice with it. I'm obsessed with the flavor it provides to anything I put it in/on. You can certainly omit it, but if you want to try this amazing stuff out for yourself, you can **order it HERE.

(**I am not affiliated with, or sponsored by, Northeast Corner Herb Farm. I just happen to love their products and I feel that it never hurts to throw a little love in the direction of some of my area's local businesses. Plus, it really is that good!)

Add the final third of the veggies into the pot, letting some fall on top of the meat. This step might seem a bit strange, but I've found over time that it has its merits. The breakdown of the vegetables as they cook, provide liquid and that liquid acts as a kind of super flavored basting sauce for the meat.

Add a bit more light oil. (a teaspoon or two)

Then drizzle the same amount of soy sauce over the top. Adding flavors in stages is a good thing, my friends!

Place the uncovered pan/pot in the lower third of your preheated oven and roast it for 30 minutes at 375°F. Then turn the temperature down to 325°F and continue to roast for another 2 and one-half hours. (you'll want an internal temperature of 155° to 160° using an instant-read thermometer)

Remove the roast from the pan and place it on a cutting board or serving platter. Cover the meat loosely with foil and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes while you make the gravy. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon to a bowl or serving plate and cover them tightly to keep warm.

For The Gravy

I'm sorry that I don't have photos of the beginning of the gravy process, but the Hubbs made the gravy this particular night and he started when I was in another room. (You'd think by now, he'd know to wait for the photos, right? HaHa!)

There should be a fair amount of pan drippings/liquid left in the bottom of the pan when you're roasting a cut of meat like this. Some of it will be a bit of the fat that rendered out of the roast while cooking. The rest will be the natural juices from the meat and the vegetables. If it looks like there's more fat than pan juices, you'll want to skim off the excess fat. It will usually separate by itself as the pan sits for a few minutes and the drippings cool ever so slightly. You'll be able to see the difference.

If you have a handy dandy fat separator like the one above (this is what we have) you can use that. If using the fat separator, you'll get better results if you pour half of your chicken broth/stock into the pan and stir it well first. Then, pour all of the liquid into the separator and allow it to do its magic.

I just happened to find a short video using our exact separator that shows you what I mean.

Once you have the pan juices separated, pour them back into the roasting pan leaving the fat behind, add in your stock/remaining stock and place the pan onto the stovetop over medium-high heat. Bring to a gentle boil while gently scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen up any brown bits (fond). Any larger pieces can be strained and removed later if you like, but I find that most all of the fond melts right down and what is left over doesn't hurt the gravy at all.

In a separate bowl, add in your four tablespoons of softened butter and four tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Using a fork or a small sturdy whisk, combine the butter and flour thoroughly to form a thick paste. This is called a beurre manie in culinary terms and we've used it as one of our go-to methods for making gravy for years. (the other method is to make a roux in the pan with the butter - or some of the fat from the pan drippings - and flour)

As the liquid in the pan simmers, slowly whisk in small amounts of the butter/flour paste until your mixture is smooth. 

Continue adding small amounts and stirring, until you've reached the desired consistency. Any leftover butter and flour mixture can be placed onto some waxed paper, rolled up tightly and put into a zip-top bag and kept in the freezer for use another time. As long as it's kept airtight, it should last in the freezer for up to three months.

You want the gravy to leave a clean trail across the back of a spoon when you swipe your finger across/through it.

Uncover the meat and with a sharp chef's knife or meat carving knife, slice the pork into approximately 1/4 inch slices working around the bone when you get to those areas. You can put the slices directly on each person's plate or onto a serving platter with the pan vegetables placed around it for presentation.

Serve along with your vegetables from the pan, potatoes of your choice (in our house, it has to be mashed) and the delicious pork gravy and you have an amazing old fashioned roast pork dinner for your family, or even for a dinner party with friends.

And don't toss that bone out! Believe it or not, you can make an excellent stock with these bones and it can be used in several recipes, like baked beans, Southern-style greens, chili and a whole host of other dishes. It can even be saved for the next roast pork dinner and used for the gravy in place of the chicken stock. Just place it in airtight containers and freeze. It should keep for up to six months.



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