My Aunt Cooks the Best Roast Pork
“But I will place this carefully fed pig Within the crackling oven; and, I pray, What nicer dish can e’er be given to man.” Aeschylus, ancient Greek poet
Old school in a Dutch pot over a coal fire. The pork shoulder is seasoned the night before with thyme, pimento, minced garlic, fresh ginger, scotch bonnet pepper, soy sauce, kosher salt and black pepper. She takes her time. My aunt also likes to cut up an onion, carrot and celery. She adds them to the pork and lets everything marinate. I call it “mirepoix” she just laughs, “Mirror what?” There’s no rush, that’s what good braising is all about. In the refrigerator the meat absorbs all the herbs and spices permeate the meat, call it osmosis of flavor. The pork shoulder weighs about 5lbs, a medium sized roast, and a perfect fit for the Dutch pot. She likes cooking outside, there is shade at the side of the house. The overhanging ackee tree makes this the perfect spot. Cooking outside is the secret. A bit of cool breeze and sunshine trickles into the pot each time it’s opened. Is it true? I think so.
But first, a sulfur match and a wad of newspaper to coax the coal to fire.
My Aunt’s Dutch pot is heavy. This thick sides and bottom prevent the meat from scorching. It holds the heat while distributing it evenly. She adds a little oil when the pot is hot enough and allows the oil to shimmer and smoke lightly before adding the meat. It takes time to brown a large piece of meat. The longer it takes the better. Food scientists describe the caramelization of meat as a “maillard reaction.” They would love my aunt because her “maillard reaction” is perfect. Five to eight minutes per side, she leaves the meat to sizzle and goes inside to start the “rice & peas.” Kitchen towel in one hand, fork in the other, the lid is lifted and she proudly allows me to take a picture.
That culinary term again? She adds the vegetables and all the seasoning saved from the meat. A cup of water is enough to start. The lid goes on. What happens inside the Dutch pot? The low heat, long cooking time and moisture breaks down the connective tissue in the pork. The added aromatics respond to the heat and gradually begin their own gradual “maillard reaction.” For now I was in charge. Every fifteen minutes or so, I would lift the lid and add water if necessary. Never more than a cup or two.
At least I had company while I sat outside tending the roast pork.
Never trim the fat or skin from a pork shoulder. The skin is delicious; the fat bastes the meat and keeps it moist. Heat contracts and tightens muscle fibers. Over time, these fibers expel moisture and the meat becomes dry. The long cooking process allows these fibers to relax and absorb the melted pork fat and gelatin. Braised meats absorb liquid. It took three hours till the meat was fork tender. I’m sure it was done and tender, I told my aunt, and after all, it was my fork that did most of the testing.