Inspiration from Aida Mollenkamp: Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder

How many blood oranges does a girl have to squeeze to get 1½ cups of juice? Nine. I won't forget it because the last one squirted into the bowl, yes, but also across the page that held the recipe for Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder, thus christening my new cookbook.

The cookbook is Aida Mollenkamp's Keys to the Kitchen and I'm pretty sure that this won't be the last page to end up sauced or stained. Her cookbook is a wealth of information, and it's already taken a spot in our section of essential cookbooks, very close to Mark Bittman, Yotam Ottolenghi, and the classic Joy of Cooking. Actually, in one of the Amazon reviews, someone referred to Mollenkamp's book as a modern, updated version of Irma Rombauer's classic American cookbook. And I can see why.

There are more than 300 recipes in this book rife with tips and helpful illustrations on storing food, cooking, and stocking a basic kitchen. With each one, she aims to teach a technique with ways to riff off that technique and recipe.

But before she even gets to the recipes, Mollenkamp walks you through the grocery store and explains the cuts of meat on different animals and the ways to cook each piece. Pork shoulder is one of our favorite cuts of meat, and braising is one of the best ways to cook it. It's relatively inexpensive, easy to cook, and tastes good. Mollenkamp's recipe with blood orange juice, whiskey, and brown sugar gives the meat a sweetness that's balanced by herbs and spices.

She calls this "the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook." I like that a lot. Who doesn't want to be those things? And let me tell you, as I lugged a 4-pound piece of pork shoulder, beautifully browned on all sides of course, from the pot to the plate, I felt accomplished. I've come a long way from the tough scrambled eggs in my freshman dorm.

Danny was impressed. And when my somewhat picky sisters visited the next day, we turned the leftovers into tacos. My youngest sister, Lila, said it was so good she couldn't stop eating. Not even long enough to talk to our mom on the phone.

So, how many cookbooks does a girl need to cook? I love our growing collection and wouldn't give it up, but I could definitely get by for a while on this one alone.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at alittlesaffron@gmail.com.

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Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder

We really loved this pork shoulder served over polenta. The next night, we used the meat for tacos. The orange juice and whiskey impart an unmistakable sweetness to the meat, which is very tender, and that's hard to resist.

¼ cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 ½- to 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt)

2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or peanut oil

1 ½ cups freshly squeezed blood orange juice (from about 9 oranges)

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water

½ cup whiskey (I used bourbon)

½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

½ cup balsamic vinegar

12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)

15 black peppercorns

1 bunch fresh thyme

2 yellow onions, cut into eighths

Heat oven to 325 degrees and arrange rack in the middle of the oven.

Mix the brown sugar and salt in a bowl until combined. Rub the mixture all over the pork and set aside at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, heat the oil in an ovenproof Dutch oven or big, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until it's just beginning to smoke. Carefully add the pork and cook until all sides are well browned, just 2 to 3 minutes on each side without moving it. Then, move this huge piece of meat to a plate and set aside.

Back at the pot, add the orange juice, broth, whiskey, soy sauce, and vinegar to the pot, scraping the bottom of the pot to pick up any browned bits. Increase the heat a bit and when the liquid comes to a boil, bring the heat back down to medium-low. Add the garlic, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, thyme, onions, and the pork. Once the liquid reaches a simmer, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is fork-tender, falling off the bone, and has an internal temperature of at least 155 degrees, 2 to 2 ½ hours. Baste the pork occasionally during that time.

Discard the cinnamon stick and peppercorns and fish out the pieces of thyme. Then, use two forks to pull the meat off the bone and shred. Get rid of the bone. Stir the meat in the braising juices and watch as it soaks it up. Serve shredded pork with braising juices poured over the meat and a side of polenta, potatoes, rice, or tortillas.

Keep any leftover meat stored with the braising juices in the fridge for up to 3 days, and reheat in a pot over medium heat after getting rid of some of the fat.

Serves 8.

Source: Keys to the Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp (Chronicle, 2012)

Inspiration from Aida Mollenkamp: Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder 02/19/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 4:52pm]

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