Every once in a while, I have to jump up and down waving my hands, hoping that some of you try a particular dish. This is one of those times. Alas for the vegetarians. Ginger, fennel, soy sauce, garlic, lime, orange, pork and a low-slow braise, oh my! I never knew how well ginger and fennel go together.
The meal began when I made another pilgrimage to Fleishers, the exquisite butcher in Kingston NY, and walked away with a bunch of goodies including a 3lb berkshire pork shoulder. As everyone knows, great ingredients make great meals, and berkshire pork is far-and-away superior to the overly-lean pork you get in American supermarkets. I like working with bone-in cuts; flavor is better and I like the texture that comes with gently shredding the meat away from the fat and bone at the end.
Wanting to try a new flavor profile with the pork, I turned to the Internets and discovered an interesting recipe on Epicurious. I didn’t really follow the recipe’s methods, but the flavor inspiration was fantastic. The braised fennel was transported some something entirely new.
Pork Shoulder Braised with Ginger, Fennel, and Citrus
Inspired by a recipe in Gourmet, Jan 2004
3lb bone-in pork shoulder serves 4
3 to 5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, preferably Berkshire pork
3/4 tsp black peppercorns
3/4 tsp fennel seed
1/4 tsp coarse salt
zest of a navel orange
zest of a lime
1 large vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 large* piece of ginger, sliced thickly
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sherry cooking wine
2 to 3 cups chicken broth
2 large or 3 medium fennel bulbs
1 tbsp fennel fronds, finely chopped
Prep: with a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds, peppercorns and salt, and mix in the orange and lime zest. Also bring the chicken stock to a boil and then turn off the heat. Pre-heat oven to 300F.
To prep the pork shoulder, I cut the skin off (saved it to make crackling later), and left most of the fat on for the braising process, slicing into it with a criss-cross fashion to make it easier to rub spices into and easier to remove after the braise is done.
Heat a splash of grapeseed or vegetable oil in a large dutch oven until very hot. Sear the pork shoulder 1 to 2 minutes on each side and remove from the pot. When this cools, rub the spice and zest mix all over the pork and into the cuts in the fat.
Let the dutch oven cool slightly, then add the chopped onions. Saute the onions on medium-low heat for a few minutes, then add in the crushed garlic cloves, ginger slices, and cinnamon stick. Saute for 10 minutes, add in the sugar, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Stir in the soy sauce and sherry and bring to a simmer. Nestle the pork shoulder into the sauce, and pour in enough chicken stock so that liquid comes about halfway up the meat. Bring the liquid again to a simmer and then cover and place in oven for an hour. After an hour, flip the shoulder and return to oven for an hour.
Chop the tops off of the fennel bulbs and a thin slice off of the bottom. Halve the bulbs and then cut into 1/4 inch slices. Often with fennel you will want to remove the core, but that is optional here because the fennel with be braised.
Scatter the fennel slices and fennel frond around the pork, cover and return to oven. After 30 minutes, stir the fennel gently. Place the uncovered pot back in the oven for another one to one-and-a-half hours, basting the top of the pork every 30 minutes or so. I also removed the cinnamon stick during this last phase.
You can let this cook in the oven until you are almost ready to serve, or re-cover the pot and bring it to the stovetop on very low heat to stay warm if you need the oven for another dish.
Preparing to Serve
Remove the pork shoulder to a cutting board and separate the meat from the fat and bones with two forks. Gently pull apart the larger pieces of meat (they should pull apart quite easily). Salt lightly.
Making the sauce: Skim the excess fat off of the top of the liquid and remove and discard the ginger slices (not cutting them too small makes this easier). Remove most of the braised fennel to a side bowl, and then blend the liquid and vegetables in the pot with an immersion blender (or carefully in a food processor or blender).
Serve by spooning some sauce on top of the pork and top with a little freshly chopped cilantro (optional), some freshly squeezed lime juice, and a little more sauce.
*Note: I don’t have the weight of the ginger, but I used a piece about 3″ long and 1.5″ thick.
Serving Notes: We served this with potatoes cooked in beer, and reversed the normal order by having a small salad afterwards, which acted as a really nice palate cleanser. The salad was merely baby arugula (rocket) and feta cheese, with a lemon and olive oil dressing. Serve the meal with a medium-to-strong bodied red wine, like a zinfindel or cabernet sauvignon.
The sauce was so good, I froze the extra for future use.