Why It Works
- A pork brisket is an ideal cut to roast or braise because of the extra fat. Leave the skin on for some extra crispiness.
- Using milk as the braising liquid yields a rich sauce.
"Beef brisket?" they'll ask, assuming that you want cow.
If you ask for a pork brisket at the meat department of a regular supermarket, you may get a funny look from the person working behind the counter.
A real butcher will know exactly what you want. Though brisket is the term applied to the bottom half of the shoulder section of the cow (not including shank), the same muscular groups can be found on the pig as well as the lamb, for that matter. Scaled up or down, all the animals in the shop share the same bones and muscular structures. Stare at meat long enough and you'll start to see the profound similarities rather than the differences on the surface.
Though it's sometimes dismissed as too fatty, a pork brisket is actually an ideal cut to roast or braise. Roasts, whether dry-roasted or braised, can be tricky to get just right. Unlike soup bones, which can be cooked for as long as you like, or steaks, which are generally better on the undercooked side, a roast must be perfectly tender and juicy to be good at all. A well-crafted jus can mask some of the problems with an overcooked or overly lean roast, but there's really no hiding a large hunk of meat that's too dry to be palatable.
Pork brisket is simply a substantial part of a boned-out picnic ham. (A picnic ham, as we discussed in a post regarding the primals, is the lower half of a full shoulder on a pig.) I'm calling this cut on the pig a pork brisket to emphasize that what we value on the beef brisket—the fatty marbling and connective tissue that breaks down with cooking—can be found on the pig as well.
I was first turned on to the idea of a pork brisket by Hans, the retired CIA (Culinary Institute of America) master butcher who's now a staple at Fleisher's. At the shop the general rule is that whatever Hans says is the correct thing, not only because he began as a butcher's apprentice at the tender age of 11 and knows everything there is to know about meat, but also because he's formidable in all respects.
Two weekends ago we all watched Hans slaughter a pig. As background information, you should know that there is an old video of Hans that was made decades ago, in which he is filmed walking into a pen and putting his arm around a pig. Ten minutes later in the video the pig has been fabricated into pork. Hans insists that it is his brother in the video and not him, but we all know better. The running joke at the CIA is that if Hans puts his arm around you, you'd better run in the other direction.
Pork loin roasts have a tendency to dry out and legs are even more fickle to control. The bottom half of the shoulder, on the other hand, has plenty of fat to keep a roast or a braise tender throughout the lengthy cooking time. Besides which, if you ask your butcher to leave the skin-on, you'll have the additional benefit of crispy skin on your roast.
So it was Hans that first mentioned that the lower pork picnic, extending from the first to the fifth rib, would make for an ideal braise. Ask your butcher to bone out the lower ends of the ribs that will be in the cut, and what you'll end up with—not counting the hock at the very bottom—is the pork brisket. If you don't want to use your oven, you can slowly barbecue the meat on your grill, though playing with fire is always considerably more difficult to control than the steady heat of the oven.
Pork braised in milk is a classic—Italians lay claim to it, as do southerners in the U.S. In either case, the recipe couldn't be easier: You roll up and tie the pork brisket with salt and your choice of herbs like rosemary and thyme. You brown the meat, then immerse it halfway in milk with lemon juice and stick the pot into the oven. Two hours later, the roast will emerge nicely browned on the outside and tender within. The milk will have curdled into fluffy masses that are slightly savory and toasted, making for a unique sauce to go along with your braise.
As if all of this weren't enough to tempt the senses, you can place the roast underneath the broiler for just a minute after it's taken out of the braise. The flames will make the surface of the roast blister into crispy pustules of rich, porky skin.
- One 3- to 4-pound skin-on, boned-out pork brisket, to be rolled and tied up
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh sage and thyme, 1 tablespoon of each, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or lard
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 1 quart whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- The juice of 1/2 lemon
- Zest from 1 lemon
Rub salt, pepper, and herbs all over meat. Depending on the size of your roast, you will need about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper, each. Roll and tie up roast into a cylinder. The roast will benefit from being salted and kept in the refrigerator overnight, or you can proceed with the recipe immediately.
Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of oil or lard. Add tied up roast and brown it on all sides, about 10 minutes total. 5 minutes into the browning, add chopped garlic and let it brown alongside meat.
Remove meat from pot and pour off all but 1 teaspoon of fat. Add milk, bay leaves, lemon juice, and zest. Bring mixture to a boil. Return roast to pot, placing skin side up. Cover pot and braise in oven for 1 hour. Remove cover and braise for 30 minutes longer, or until internal temperature of roast registers around 160 (71°C) to 170°F (77°C). The skin on the roast should be golden brown and crisp.
Remove roast from pot and place it into a sauté pan or hotel pan. Place roast under broiler for 30 seconds to 1 minute, to further crisp up skin.
In the meantime, reduce sauce: Take braising milk in pot and place it on top of stove. Simmer sauce for 5 to 7 minutes, until sauce has formed light-brown curds. Remove bay leaves.
Slice as much of the roast as you need into 1/2-inch thick slices, arrange on a platter, and spoon sauce over them. Serve immediately. Leftovers may be refrigerated and sliced cold for use in sandwiches.