2-2.5lb. pork roast
1 batch LMC basic pork brine (below)
1 gallon milk
1 head fennel, core removed and roughly chopped
1 head garlic (sliced in half crosswise to expose the core)
1 lemon, split in half
1/2 tablespoon peppercorns
2-3 fresh bay leaves
1 small bunch of fresh thyme
For the brine*
3 cups water
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 sprig of fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Heat 3 cups of water until just simmering.
Whisk in all brine ingredients until sugar and salt are dissolved.
Cool brine completely.
Place pork shoulder into a large ziplock bag and pour in cooled brine. Try to force as much air out of the bag as possible to make sure that the pork is completely covered in the liquid brine. Let the pork sit in the brine in your refrigerator overnight. If some of your shoulder is not in the brine, just turn it over in the bag every once in a while (2-3 times is plenty).
After a day in the brine, remove the shoulder from the brine and let it rest in the kitchen for at least an hour while you preheat your oven to 325°.
Place the pork in a deep casserole dish or Dutch oven.
Add the garlic, fennel, lemon, thyme, bay leaf, and then pour milk into the casserole until approximately half of the shoulder is submerged. Place it in the preheated oven and let it braise uncovered for about four hours.
Every hour, turn the shoulder over into the milk so that the surface that was exposed to the heat is now submerged in the milk and baste the roast with the milk.
Note: It doesn’t start out as much, but by the fourth or fifth flip something glorious happens. The milk will eventually break and the meat will start to caramelize. Because the milk separates into fat and solids, the shoulder basically slow cooks itself in flavored fat. I recommend about four hours for cooking time because it will be slightly different depending on your oven. The best way to make sure the pork is ready is to pierce the roast at the thickest point with a sharp knife, if the knife gently glides in and then easily out, your work is done.
Roasted quince is a great side for this dish, as are figs, fennel, potatoes, or sunchokes.
*A FEW NOTES ON BRINING
Brining is a method for flavoring as well as preserving meat. Because the salt draws moisture out of the meat and replaces it with saltwater, brining actually slightly increases the “shelf-life” of the meat. A brined piece of pork will keep in your refrigerator approximately twice as long as an un-brined piece.
This is our favorite simple pork brine, but it is by not a “perfect recipe”. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to your liking.
You don’t need to add sugar to a brine, we just prefer a small amount of sweetness in the recipe. Because this brine contains sugar, the pork will caramelize more quickly than if it didn’t have sugar in the brine.
We like salty pork, period. This recipe is based on a 2-3% salt solution, by weight. Taste the brine after you dissolve it in the hot water, if it tastes roughly as salty as the ocean, then this is the “right” amount as far as we are concerned. If this seems too salty to you, just add a bit more water to the solution.
Your brine ingredients do flavor the meat, so consider this when adding certain ingredients to the brine. Essentially, a brine is just saltwater. Any ingredients beyond just salt and water are only for taste. Peppercorns, juniper, mustard seeds and clove are all common ingredients to add to a brine. We like to keep our brine simple, so that we can adjust the flavor later with finishing seasonings or basting sauces.
Keep in mind, oily herbs like rosemary and dried spices like juniper and clove have essential oils that become very strong when heated. When using ingredients like these, error on the side of “less is more” or you risk making your meat taste like a Christmas tree.