I was sitting at my computer and wondering what the delicious, sweet smell could be. Was someone next door barbecuing? After about 3 trips from one end of the house to the other searching for the source of the tantalizing aroma, I discovered it in my own oven. At 7 am I’d put a 5-pound pork butt in at 275°F and now it was 1 pm. This is the problem with slow-roasting pork; the smell becomes so mouth-watering it could drive you crazy. Best to leave the house. So I did and by the time I came back, famished, the meat was done.
Whenever I slow-roast pork shoulder, I think of Michael Chiarello. He introduced the dish to me when we wrote the Tra Vigne Cookbook. For his Forever Roasted Pork, Michael cooked onions and packed them under the fat cap, then slathered the meat with his fennel spice, an amazingly good combination of toasted fennel, coriander, white peppercorns, and salt. After I’d tested the recipe, I called him to complain, “But Michael, it takes forever!” Silence. And then I got it. Well, duh.
Not too long ago, a friend mentioned that she had purchased organic, humanely-raised pork shoulder for a great price. It’s a wonderfully, fatty, succulent cut that can be sold bone in or boned, in which case it might be neatly tied up in netting. And I have no idea why pork shoulder is called pork butt. A call to the store revealed that, no, so sorry, the price was no longer correct: the meat was now on sale for 40 cents a pound less! G and I rushed over and came home with 20 pounds, cut into 4 five-pound pieces.
Unlike some other forms of slow-cooking that might involve some technique and care (think braising), slow-roasting meat requires nothing more than a piece of meat and an oven. Cuts of meat particularly well-suited to slow-roasting are pork and lamb shoulder and beef chuck. The fat in these cuts melts into the meat as it cooks and keeps it moist. Excellent meat requires little more than salt and pepper but the meat also offers a tempting canvas for embroidering with spice rubs. These might be a single spice such as ground coriander, or a paste of anchovies, garlic, and herbs, or ras el hanout, the Moroccan spice blend of cinnamon, coriander, pepper, allspice, cumin, and more.
To experience the sweet torture of slow-cooked pork shoulder anticipation, rub the meat all over with about 1 tablespoon spice mix per pound of pork. Put it in a roasting pan or baking dish and put in a 275°F oven. No need to preheat. Cook until the scent nearly drives you crazy and the meat pulls apart easily. Test it by pinching off a small piece with tongs. A 5-pound piece will take about 7 hours. If you think your dream life can handle it, cook the meat overnight.
Slow-roasted meat makes an ideal convenience food. Serve it for breakfast with scrambled eggs, for lunch as sandwiches, for dinner in tacos or on pasta. Freeze any leftovers to make a quick meal of in future.