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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Slow-Braised Pork Butt With Ancho Orange Sauce


This braised, pulled pork is succulent and flavorful. It's also full of aromatic and anti-inflammatory spices like cumin, coriander, fennel, and chili peppers.

I added orange juice to the braising liquid to give the sauce a more complex flavor, but if you're on a detox, substitute bone broth or water. Instead of juicing the orange after you zest it, cut it up into wedges or slices and serve them for dessert, sprinkled with a bit of ground cinnamon.

I served this pulled pork on a bed of steamed baby bok choy, but you can serve it with any kind of fresh or steamed leafy green vegetable. You don't need to add salt or fat because the pork contains both already.

To keep my spices as flavorful as possible as long as possible, I buy them whole whenever I can and grind them to order. If you don't have cumin, corriander, or fennel seeds, you can substitute similar amounts of the ground versions.

1 pork butt, about 3.5 pounds, pre-seasoned with sea salt, ground peppercorn, and ground cumin
2 dried ancho chili peppers
1 dried chipotle pepper
1 tbsp rendered duck fat or ghee
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced 
2.5 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons corriander seeds
1.5 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 organic orange, zest and juice

24 to 48 hours in advance:

Cut the pork into large chunks about 2 to 3 inches square. Season them on all sides with a generous amount of salt, pepper, and ground cumin. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours.

1 to 2 hours in advance:

Prepare 1 cup of boiling water.

Remove and discard the stems from the ancho and chipotle chili peppers. For a less spicy dish, discard the seeds as well or save them for another use. Tear the chilies into pieces (or cut them up with a clean kitchen shears) and drop them into a glass or stainless steel bowl.

Pour the water over the peppers and set them aside for an hour or two. Once they have fully rehydrated, purée the chilies and soaking liquid until smooth. Use now or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for future use. 

To make the dish:

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Melt the fat in a heavy-bottom Dutch oven large enough to accommodate the pork. Brown the pieces of pork on all sides, in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan. Don't rush this step. As the pieces become browned, transfer them to a plate.

While the meat is browning, toast the corriander, cumin, and fennel seeds in a small, dry cast iron or stainless steel skillet. Once they become aromatic, turn off the heat and let them cool. Once cool, grind them with a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder.

Once all of the pork pieces have been browned on all sides, transfer them to a plate or bowl. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan (into a glass jar for another use).

Sauté the onions until they are soft and starting to brown. Stir in the spices and continue cooking. After another minute or two, or once the spiced onions start to stick to the bottom, stir in the chili pepper purée and orange juice. (Be sure to remove and reserve the zest before you juice the orange.)

Once the liquids have been well-incorporated, add the pork pieces, nestling them into the onion mixture. Each piece of pork should be submerged about 2/3 of the way. If you need more liquid, add a splash of water.

Bring the mixture to a boil, turn off the heat, and cover the pan tightly. Transfer it to the oven and roast for about 3 hours, until the pork is tender and falls apart easily. Check after 20 minutes and look for a slow simmer. If the liquid is boiling too rapidly, reduce the oven temperature and check again after 20 minutes. Once you get it just right, minimize uncovering the pot and opening the oven as much as possible.

When the pork is fall-apart tender, transfer it to a plate. Stir the orange zest into the sauce. Taste the sauce for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. If the sauce is too thick or too strong, thin it out with some water. If it's too thin or lacking flavor, reduce it on the stove top as much as you wish.

Shred the pork. When you're happy with the sauce, add it back to the pot. Stir everything together until the pork is thoroughly coated with sauce. Serve immediately or within two hours.

If you're making it further ahead, cool it to room temperature, cover, and transfer to the fridge until ready to eat. Reheat slowly over low heat.

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