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Tampa Bay Times
Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder can be served on a bed of polenta.

Pork gets sweet, herby treatment

How many blood oranges does a girl have to squeeze to get 1 1/2 cups of juice? Nine. I won’t forget it because the last one squirted into the bowl, yes, but also across the page that held the recipe for Blood-Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder, thus christening my new cookbook.

The cookbook is Aida Mollenkamp’s “Keys to the Kitchen,” and I’m pretty sure that this won’t be the last page to end up sauced or stained. Her cookbook is a wealth of information, and it’s already taken a spot in our section of essential cookbooks, close to Mark Bittman, Yotam Ottolenghi and the classic “Joy of Cooking.”

There are more than 300 recipes in this book rife with tips and helpful illustrations on storing food, cooking and stocking a basic kitchen. With each one, she aims to teach a technique with ways to riff off that technique and recipe.

But before she even gets to the recipes, Mollenkamp walks you through the grocery store and explains the cuts of meat on different animals and the ways to cook each piece. Pork shoulder is one of our favorite cuts of meat, and braising is one of the best ways to cook it. It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to cook and tastes good. Mollenkamp’s recipe with blood-orange juice, whiskey and brown sugar gives the meat a sweetness that is balanced by herbs and spices.

She calls this “the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook.” I like that a lot. Who doesn’t want to be those things? And let me tell you, as I lugged a 4-pound piece of pork shoulder, beautifully browned on all sides, of course, from the pot to the plate, I felt accomplished. I’ve come a long way from the tough scrambled eggs in my freshman dorm.

We really loved this Blood-Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder served over polenta. The next night, we used the meat for tacos. The orange juice and whiskey impart an unmistakable sweetness.

Blood-Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 1/2 - to 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt)

2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or peanut oil

1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed blood-orange juice (from about 9 oranges)

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water

1/2 cup whiskey (I used bourbon)

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)

15 black peppercorns

1 bunch fresh thyme

2 yellow onions, cut into eighths

Heat oven to 325 degrees and arrange rack in the middle of the oven.

Mix the brown sugar and salt in a bowl until combined. Rub the mixture all over the pork and set aside at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, heat the oil in an ovenproof Dutch oven or big, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until it’s just beginning to smoke. Carefully add the pork and cook until all sides are well-browned, just 2 to 3 minutes on each side without moving it. Then, move this huge piece of meat to a plate and set aside.

Back at the pot, add the orange juice, broth, whiskey, soy sauce and vinegar, scraping the bottom to pick up any browned bits. Increase the heat a bit, and when the liquid comes to a boil, bring the heat back down to medium-low. Add the garlic, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, thyme, onions and the pork. When the liquid reaches a simmer, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is fork-tender, falling off the bone, and has an internal temperature of at least 155 degrees, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Baste the pork occasionally during that time.

Discard the cinnamon stick and peppercorns and fish out the pieces of thyme. Then, use two forks to pull the meat off the bone and shred. Get rid of the bone. Stir the meat in the braising juices and watch as it soaks it up. Serve shredded pork with braising juices poured over the meat and a side of polenta, potatoes, rice or tortillas.

Keep any leftover meat stored with the braising juices in the fridge for up to 3 days, and reheat in a pot over medium heat after getting rid of some of the fat.

Serves 8.

– “Keys to the Kitchen” by Aida Mollenkamp (Chronicle, 2012)

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