Easter is around the corner and there are plenty of Italian traditions that go with it. I would say that for Italians, Easter is the second most...
Cookie exchanges. Four course meals. Seven (ok, make that nine) fishes. Prosecco parties. The list goes on. The glorious excesses of the holidays. And now as the new year unfolds and finally the air begins to chill, I am most craving simplicity – food that is comforting; soul-warming; made with only the simplest of ingredients and lots of love. Comfort food that simmers slowly on the stove, sending waves of comforting delicious aromas into the house while you bustle about putting away the decorations. Or curled up under a blanket on a nearby sofa with a good cookbook. Or cleaning your spice shelf and putting everything back in alphabetical order. (Just kidding.) Yes, that kind of comfort food.
Although I have seen this dish in numerous cookbooks and blogs over the years, the thought of the beige, somewhat clumpy braising liquid left me with little inspiration. However, everyone raved about the pork’s transformation to tenderness due to the addition of the milk. But finally, a few years ago after a rather scientific conversation on the merits of adding milk to Bolognese sauce, I broke down and gave this dish a try. Of course, I was so very wrong to ignore this recipe for so long. Of course, the Italian nonnas once again knew what they were doing. This dish does not disappoint. As the roast slowly cooks, the milk curdles and caramelizes around the pork elevating it to a masterpiece of deliciousness. The resulting tender meat is then swathed in the thick porky sauce that is intensely flavorful.
Braising in milk is a technique quite common in many parts of Italy, especially the north. Besides tenderizing the meat, the milk boosts the flavor creating a balanced, silky sauce to complement the pork. You will see this recipe using pork loin. However, the pork today tends to be much leaner so you may want to substitute a cut with a bit more fat, such as a pork shoulder as I have done here. The delicious ricotta-like milk curds that form in the sauce are then spooned atop the meat and although the resulting dish may not be a choice for a fancy dinner party, the taste is pure heaven. If they simply aren’t your thing, give the sauce a little whisk to break up the clumps a bit.
Although this dish simmers away on the stove for two to three hours, it is important to not wander too far away. Milk can easily burn or evaporate so you will want to check on the progress fairly frequently and you will want to turn the roast every 30. So yes, maybe it is time to organize that spice shelf by alphabetical order after all!
Definitely give this dish a go – you will not be sorry!
Pork Shoulder Braised in Milk
Serves 4 to 6
• 1 (2-3 pound) boneless pork shoulder
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 3 tablespoons butter, unsalted, divided
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 4 or 5 thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed
• 4 cups whole milk
• ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• Butcher’s twine
Bring pork shoulder to room temperature. Trim away any excess fat. Truss the pork with butcher’s twine to help the meat keep its shape during cooking. Season the roast generously with salt and pepper. Find a heavy pot wide enough to fit the pork. Combine 1 tablespoon of butter and olive oil over medium high heat. When the butter foam has subsided, add the pork and sear, turning occasionally until browned on all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the roast to a platter. Pour off any excess fat.
Return the pot back to medium low heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the prosciutto and smashed garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until prosciutto has browned, about 3 minutes. Add the milk and nutmeg. Bring to a gentle simmer. Return the pork to the pot.
Cover pan loosely with a lid. Simmer gently, turning meat about every 30 minutes, until the meat is tender, about 2 -3 hours.
Remove the meat to a cutting board and let rest.
Simmer the remaining liquid in the pot, uncovered, until it is reduced by about two-thirds. Keep a close eye on the sauce so it does not burn. The curds will begin to turn golden, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Cut the pork into slices. Arrange on a platter and spoon the sauce over and around the pork. Enjoy!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog www.OurItalianTable.com