Was it worth the work? Absolutely. The plus side is that a lot of the steps can be done in advance, which is useful because this is going on my dinner party recipe rotation.
First, the pork. Chunks of pork shoulder are coated with coarsely crushed spices, garlic and fresh herbs. The meat needs to sit in the fridge overnight with the spice rub, so plan accordingly. You want a coarse grind on the spices, so a mortar and pestle is the optimal tool. If you don’t have one, you could probably do this in the food processor, just be careful not to grind too fine.
After the pork has had enough time to absorb the flavors of the rub, it’s browned in a little oil. You’ll probably have to brown the meat in two or three batches. Chopped onion, carrot and fennel are added to the pan, along with white wine, chicken stock, lemon zest and sprigs of herbs.
The pork cooks for 3 hours until it’s meltingly tender. The meat is removed from the pot and the braising juices are strained and reduced until slightly thickened.
The second component of the dish is the root vegetables with gremolata. If you can find baby root vegetables, use them. If not, you can cut larger carrots and turnips down into smaller pieces. You can also add parsnips if you like. The vegetables, along with some sliced shallot, are sauteed until caramelized. A bright tasting gremolata of parsley, lemon zest and garlic gets tossed with the vegetables.
The third part of this meal is polenta. Use your favorite recipe – I just cooked the polenta with some chicken stock, salt and butter for about 45 minutes.
To serve, the polenta is spooned into a bowl and topped with some pork and braising liquid. The root vegetables with gremolata go over the top. Alternatively, you could serve this family style with the pork and vegetables in one bowl, and the polenta in a second dish. I think it looks more elegant when individually plated.
Spiced pork with root vegetables and gremolata
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
For the pork:
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 T fennel seeds
2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch chunks
1/2 tsp cayenne
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 T fresh oregano leaves, plus 2 sprigs
1 T fresh thyme leaves
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 c diced onion
1/4 c diced carrot
1/2 c diced fennel
2 bay leaves
1 chile de arbol
1 c white wine
2 c chicken stock
4 sprigs cilantro
salt and pepper
cooked polenta for serving
Toast the seeds a few minutes in a small pan over medium heat, until they release their aroma and are lightly browned. Crush them coarsely with a mortar and pestle.
Place the pork in a large bowl or zip top bag with the cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cayenne, garlic, oregano leaves and thyme. Toss the pork and spices together to coat well. Refrigerate overnight.
Take the meat out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Heat a large dutch oven over high heat for 3 minutes. Pour in the olive oil, and place the meat in the pan in a single layer. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Sear the meat until well browned and caramelized on all sides. You may have to brown the meat in batches.
Remove the meat from the pan, set aside. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, carrot and fennel. Stir in the bay leaves and chile. Cook 6-8 minutes, or until the vegetables start to caramelize.
Pour in the white wine and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Using a vegetable peeler, pull long strips of zest from the lemon. Turn off the heat and add the pork to the pot. Tuck the lemon zest, cilantro and oregano sprigs around the meat. Cover the pan with a piece of parchment, pressing the parchment down so it touches the top of the meat. Put a lid on top of the parchment.
Braise for three hours, stirring once per hour. The meat should be fork tender at this point. Take the pot from the oven. Remove the pork from the pot, place on a platter and cover with foil. Ladle the braising juices and vegetables into a strainer set over a saucepan. Skim the fat from the braising juices, then reduce the broth over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, until it slightly thickens. Taste for seasoning.
Pour the hot broth over the browned meat and stir to coat well. Scatter the gremolata root vegetables over the pork. Serve with polenta.
For the root vegetables with gremolata:
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 c chopped flat leaf parsley
7 small or 2 large carrots, peeled
12 small or 3 large turnips
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter
1/2 c of sliced shallot
3/4 c chicken stock
salt and pepper
Chop the garlic, parsley and lemon zest together until very fine, set aside.
Slice the carrots and turnips in half lengthwise if using baby vegetables. If using larger vegetables, cut into 1-2 inch pieces.
Heat a large saute pan over high heat. Add the olive oil and turnips, cut side down. Saute for about 4 minutes, or until turnips are browned. Add the carrots and chicken stock. Cook until the chicken stock has evaporated and the carrots and turnips are tender; you may need to add a little more liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Add the butter and shallots, and saute for another 7 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender and caramelized. Toss the vegetables with the gremolata just before serving.