Braised food

This Buttermilk Braised Pork Shoulder Practically Cooks Itself

Milk braised pork on garlic polenta

Graphic: Allison Corr

As I’ve mentioned many times, I really, really, really do not like entertaining, because when you’re a current former chef/food writer, people have unreasonably high expectations that I have no desire to meet. I don’t go to others and expect them to do their jobs in their spare time! If a doctor invited you over, would you expect him to examine your questionable moles before dinner? Of course you wouldn’t, and that’s why doctors don’t need to stress out before dinner parties.

I, on the other hand, have an excellent reputation as way of life influencer respect, when all I really want to do is sit on the couch and do something other than cook. That’s why when I entertain I almost always make something braised, which looks awesome, tastes amazing, and almost the magic happens while my ass is parked firmly on the couch where it belongs. This recipe in particular knocked over many socks that visited my house, with every guest walking out the door in awe of my awesome powers. Now those powers are yours too.

Buttermilk Braised Pork Shoulder with Polenta

  • 3.5 lbs. pork shoulder
  • 1 large or 2 small onions
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3-4 sprigs of stout herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, or tarragon (your choice)
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 2 cups buttermilk, or good substitution
  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 or more heads of garlic (follow your heart)
  • 1 cup instant polenta (if you can’t find it, use finely ground oats)
  • 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano, or any strong, firm grated cheese you like*
  • 2/3 cup ricotta*
  • Chopped fresh herbs, for garnish
  • Kosher salt
  • Grapeseed oil or other oil with a neutral flavor at high temperature, for cooking

*NOTE: You are allowed to use as much cheese as you want – I wouldn’t dream of stopping you from chasing your cheese dreams. Start with these steps, but keep some backup cheese handy.

Before you start: Turn on your exhaust fan, open your windows, maybe plug in a high powered portable fan in your kitchen. You’re going to be browning meat, which could set off your smoke detector, and you don’t want to scramble to air out your house while there’s something on the stove. Taking care of it before you start cooking will make your life a parcel Easier.

Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven with a thin layer of cooking oil, then turn the heat to high. While the pan preheats, use a clean paper or kitchen towel to pat the pork shoulder dry, seasoning it generously on all sides with kosher salt. When the oil begins to shimmer, carefully place the pork shoulder in the pan, fat side down. Fight any urges you have to push and prod him, and leave him alone! You don’t want your pork to be “a little” brown – you want it to be Brown brown, and it can only get where it needs to be over time.

Let the pork sear undisturbed for about 4-5 minutes, then shake it a bit to see if it’s stuck to the pan. If so, wait another minute and then check again; when the pork is nicely browned, it will pull away from the pan, so be patient and follow its lead. When ready, flip pork shoulder sideways to brown; repeat until each side is a beautiful mahogany brown, then transfer to a plate and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium high. Use a food processor to chop the onions and carrots as finely as you like, then add them to the pan with a big pinch of salt and a little olive oil or butter if the pan seems a bit too much dried. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden brown, about 7 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, start preheating your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the vegetables are golden, add the fresh herbs and bay leaves and cook for another minute or so until fragrant. Add the wine, using your spoon to scrape up any savory brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then stir in the buttermilk, chicken broth, nutmeg and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Return the browned pork shoulder to the pan, along with any juices it left on the plate. Roll the garlic bulbs between your hands to remove any dried layers of skin, then use a serrated knife to cut a thin piece off the top of each bulb. Arrange the bulbs of garlic around the roast pork, cut side up, then put the lid on the Dutch oven and slide it into the oven for three hours. After that, remove the lid from the Dutch oven, turn the pork over and continue braising without the lid for about an hour, until the pork falls apart easily when pierced with a fork.

Put the Dutch oven back on the stove (don’t turn it on), carefully remove the bulbs of pork and garlic to a dish and use tongs to pick and discard the herbs. Stir in the polenta or oatmeal, cover the pan and let sit for about ten minutes. Stir in cheese and taste for seasoning, adjusting as desired. Serve in bowls, garnish with pork and fresh herbs, and serve the braised garlic heads on the side.