This is a recipe I adapted from one that recently ran in Fine Cooking, and that I made last week when our weather was stuck on cool, rainy, and generally crappy. On days like that I find it helps to fire up some great smelling kitchen projects to keep all our spirits up. Things like a loaf of freshly baked bread, a long simmering pot of rich bolognese, a few sheets of chocolate chip cookies, or a multi-hour braise like this dish.
At about 2 hours in, the aroma of this meal bubbling along in the slow cooker, like a siren's song, called everyone from the far reaches of the house to check and see what was cooking. News that the meat had to cook for another 4 hours or so caused a bit of a stink, but hey, some things in life just can't be rushed. Like the 6-7 hour process of slowly breaking down the fat and collagen found in the pork shoulder used to create this dish (when shopping you'll be looking for a 6-7 pound pork shoulder, sometimes marked as a "Boston Butt" – don't ask me why, given that a pig's shoulder and butt are two very distinct and seperate parts of the animal). When cooked for this length of time, the pork is rendered so tender and juicy you can cut and eat it with a spoon, and a dull one at that!
I changed the original recipe in a couple of significant ways. First I browned the meat well before tossing it into the slow cooker because in my book, not doing so is like throwing away a whole layer of flavor-building that is critical to the success of any meat dish. Second, we upped the amount of fresh ginger called for ….just because. Finally, rather than use chestnuts tossed in at the beginning of cooking as instructed, we tossed in blanched almonds about an hour before cooking was complete, preferring their earthy crunch to the sort of sweet, melting-soft texture of the long cooked chestnuts. The meat and vegetables are so tender by the end of cooking, I think the snap of the almonds lends a nice textural counterpoint.
Serve this brothy stew over brown rice as we did, some white rice if you're looking to keep this dish more ethnically pure, or some udon noodles if you're feeling slurpy. Topped with some freshly sliced scallions and a few squirts of sriracha, a few bites will render you oblivious to whatever the weather outside. Keep any leftover meat stored in the sauce in your fridge, and stay tuned for a great second recipe to make from this super tasty dish!
Cheers – Steve
- 2 medium leeks
- 1 cup low sodium soy sauce or tamari
- 4 tablespoons cream sherry
- 1/3 cup peeled, julienned fresh ginger - cut into thin matchstick shapes
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 large cinnamon sticks
- 1 star anise pod
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4-5 pounds trimmed pork shoulder cut into 4-5 large chunks (from a 6-7 pound untrimmed shoulder)
- 2 cups blanched, whole almond
- 2-3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar (to your taste)
- rice or noodles of your choice for serving
- thinly sliced scallions and fresh cilantro for garnish
- Trim the pork of excess exterior fat, and cut it from the bone. Break it down into 4-5 large chunks then brown them well on all sides in a large pan slick with some canola oil set over medium-high heat. When all the pork is browned set it aside.
- Trim the roots and dark green leaves from the leeks, slice them lengthwise and then across into 1/4 inch half moon shapes. Place the sliced pieces into a large bowl of cold water and agitate well to clean. Scoop the pieces into a colander to drain, or better yet, into a salad spinner and spin to dry.
- Stir the leeks, sherry, ginger matchsticks, garlic slices, cinnamon, star anise, pepper flakes, sugar, and soy sauce in the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker. Add the chunks of meat and nestle them as well as you can into a single layer.
- Cover the cooker and cook on low until the pork is fork tender, about 5 to 7 hours, flipping the meat every 2 hours so as to ensure even contact with the aromatics. About an hour before finished toss the almonds into the cooker and stir them in and around the meat.
- When the meat is done, remove the large chunks from the cooker and move them to a cutting board with a moat to catch any juices. Working with two forks, pull the meat into bite sized chunks, removing any large pieces of fat as you go. Remove the cinnamon sticks and star anise from the sauce, then place all of the shredded meat back into the cooker, add the rice vinegar to taste and keep warm.
- Serve the meat with some broth over your choice of rice or noodles, then top with freshly sliced scallions, cilantro, and sriracha if desired.