Shouldering the Burden of Easter Dinner
Sunday, April 06, 2008
If I had to select one ingredient in my kitchen as the most important, I think I would have to bypass the olive oil (even the single-estate, “crack oil” as we call it in our house), the pancetta, and sea salt. I would eschew all of those for one simple, free ingredient that requires absolutely no storage space: time. The more I cook, and the more I cook locally, the simpler I want my dishes to be. (I have read that Tuscan cooking, in particular, adheres to a single herb in many dishes. While that may seem rather austere, it is in the same spirit.) I want to extract the most flavor from each ingredient and balance that flavor within the whole. The fewer ingredients, the less room for error or blandness, as each component is essential. The most important ingredient, then, is really time. If it is a quick saute or grill, then time spent preparing (or, “mise en place,” as Anthony Bourdain might call it) is crucial. In other instances, as in this slow-roasted pork shoulder, everything is dependent upon time cooking.
We ordered this beautiful, seventeen-pound, bone-in, skin-on-and-scored pork shoulder from the Fair Food Farmstand (thanks again, Ruth) only the Monday before Easter. We picked it up on that Saturday and promptly set it in a roasting for roughly thirteen hours. It was an incredibly simple preparation: some root vegetables in the bottom of the pan, which caramelized beautifully (and which I then pureed as part of a gravy); a simple rub of salt, pepper, and fennel seeds; and time, lots and lots of time. Most importantly for me, as I am a frustrated perfectionist when it comes to cooking meat, I didn’t really need to worry about internal temperature or exact cooking time: i just waited for the meat to fall away from the bone, which it did quite beautifully.
Obviously, this was more than enough food for the seven of us, but we were able to send everyone home with leftovers and still have two days worth of lunches for ourselves. What better parting gift could their be?