Why You Need to Go Buy a Big Pork Butt this Week
Burgers, dumplings, kale salads, green juice, matcha—there are a lot of trendy foods out there. But one rosy fellow refuses to go out of fashion: the pig.
Our porcine friend is arguably the most iconic “cheffy” beast, as well. Consider how many chefs have draped themselves in whole hogs for book covers and author photos. Consider how many culinary trends—bacon! country ham! pork belly!—are rooted in oinkers. Consider how excited waiters, line cooks, and hostesses get talking about the new way they’re using bacon or belly or (lard) on the menu, and you’ll be reminded that pork’s popularity is probably never going away.
That said, an unscientific poll on Twitter revealed that my favorite cut is being neglected by nearly one out of four pig lovers. And that’s too many people not cooking bone-in pork butt.
Pork butt, which is technically distinct from pork shoulder, but often sold interchangeably, is best procured from a good butcher with the bone still in it: This will contribute more unctuousness to the finished product. I like to make a classic Puerto Rican-style roast, called perníl. (I use and love this recipe, and tweak the citrus according to what I’ve got on hand, making sure the acid quotient is about right.)
What to look for:
In most parts of the country, the butt—although creeping upwards in popularity—is still relatively cheap: I can get it for as little as $2 per pound at my local Polish butcher in Brooklyn, and you may well see it for much less. It’s a meat you want to go out of your way to buy fresh; if the hunk of meat looks dry, it’s not going to be all that tasty, and it won’t last as long when cooked. And you definitely want to make sure there’s a “fat cap” on the roast the butcher shows you. That cap should be white and clean-looking. You’ll want to score it into little squares, using a sharp knife, so that they turn into dark, caramelized bits of fat you can pick off and eat when the roast sizzles its way out of the oven.
Be sure to leave enough time to marinate your meat properly; overnight is best. And when you’re marinating, be tender: Really get it into every crevice. If the recipe calls for piercing the meat with a knife and pushing marinade into it that way, go for it! And when it comes to cooking, low and slow is best. If a recipe calls for 3 hours for 4 pounds, plan on six to eight hours for seven to eight pounds of meat. You want something that is falling-off-the-bone tender.
Handle the fat smartly:
Depending on your marinade and how much fat cap you have, you are going to have a ton of beautiful lard on your hands. For my eight-pound roast, I had a nearly inch-thick fat cap and a ton of oil in my marinade, so I let it cook for three hours in its own fat and about a cup of marinade, essentially confiting the lower portion of the roast as the fat cooked off, basting the whole roast as it made its way into the bottom of my Dutch oven. (More on that later.) After those three hours, I poured off a cup and a half of that marinade-fat mixture, leaving some behind so the roast didn’t dry out, and let it sit in a medium-sized bowl in the refrigerator. The fat-marinade mixture separated after a few hours; the buttery lard rose to the top, and the marinade sank to the bottom. Don’t throw that lard away! It. Is. Gold.
In fact, here’s how to use all eight pounds of falling-apart-gorgeous porky goodness you just made.