For many years the only fresh American pork I ate was the ground pork inside a steamed dumpling, the occasional blended meatball and the rare instance of a pork belly appetizer that found it’s way to me in a restaurant. Pork I ate as a kid – chops, mostly – hasn’t attracted me in decades, and the same is true for pork loin, often grilled. In the 1960s our nutritional overlords decided that Americans should eat less fat and one way to insure that was to convince pork farmers to raise skinnier pigs. Remember “pork, the other white meat?” Pork chops and loins lost a big portion of their fat. We fell out of touch and just never reconnected.
Nowadays, with a little research, you can buy heritage pork whose ears have never heard the words “restraint” or “diet” or “growth hormones.” Heritage is old school pork suffused with delicious fat, but it’s also expensive, and can be difficult to find. If you can’t be bothered to seek it out, the best sources of fatty pork, even on today’s leaner pigs, are pork belly, pork butt and pork shoulder, the latter two both fatty cuts with tough muscle. Both are best cooked slowly, but a butt has more intramuscular fat and the boneless butt makes a convenient roast. A boneless pork shoulder is often sold wrapped inside a net and when you remove the net the meat unrolls, which is helpful if you want to stuff it, for example, and roll it up again, or lie it flat on the grill of a smoker. Tying it up again for slow-roasting is a shade trickier than with a butt. For this recipe we prefer the butt, especially because the cap of fat left on the butt melts down into the meat during cooking.
Both shoulder and butt come from the forward part of the pig. If you imagine the silhouette of a pig as a map, the shoulder is a triangle that extends up into the mainland of the pig, beginning where the front leg joins the body. The butt, which is nowhere near where most of think a butt ought to be on either a pig or a human being, sits above the shoulder. When you’re eating the butt, you’re literally “eating higher on the hog,” a metaphor for improved circumstances, for while the butt may not be as tender as tender as chops or the loin, it is certainly above the hocks. Although in these days of leaner conventional pigs, the “higher” cuts like the loin and chops don’t appeal to me. A slow-roasted butt is fall-apart juicy and tasty, which is as high as I aspire to my pork station in life. Unless we’re talking ears, but that’s a story for another day and a different blog post. Enjoy.
7-Hour Coffee-Roasted Pork
- 2 tablespoons finely ground used coffee grounds (used today)
- 2 tablespoons garum or fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 2 teaspoons Urfa or Aleppo pepper, or freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 3½ – 4 pound boneless pork butt, fat cap intact
- Kosher salt
- 5 – 6 rosemary sprigs
- 4 large leeks, trimmed of green part
- 1 pound small red bliss potatoes
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
Note: If you can’t get leeks, just use medium-sized onions. Cut them in half, just like the leeks, and follow the recipe.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Put the coffee into a mortar and grind to breakdown the grounds. Add the fish sauce, sugar, garlic, Urfa pepper, and vinegar and grind into a thin paste.
- Score the fat on top of the pork shoulder. Season well with salt.
- Rub the coffee mixture into the pork. Save the leftover rub mixture.
- Strip off the leaves of on length of rosemary and reserve for later. Arrange the remaining rosemary sprigs all over the pork.
- Tie 3 – 4 lengths of string around the pork to hold the rosemary in place.
- Put the pork on a rack in a roasting pan. Add 2 cups of water to the pan. Save any residual rub and use it brush the pork every hour or so during the roasting.
- Roast the pork on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to 225 and continue roasting for 6½ hours.
- Prep the leeks and potatoes after the pork has been slow-roasting for 5½ hours. Trim the roots off the leeks, leaving the base of each leek intact so that the layers hold together.
- Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly.
- Season the leeks and potatoes with salt and pepper, add them to the pan with the pork and stir them about to coat them with the fat. Put everything back in the oven and roast for an hour, by which time the pork should be very close to done.
- The pork is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
- Increase the temperature to 450 and cook until the fat on the pork is crispy and potatoes and leeks are done, about 15 minutes.
- Let the pork rest 20 minutes before serving. This is important! If you slice into the roast too soon it will dry out.
- Serve with mustard, applesauce, apple butter or any other condiment you like.
I described this dish to my adult kids during a family zoom call, explaining that I love the flavor coffee brings to meat and how I thought a slow-roasted recipe would really allow the flavor to penetrate.
“But why used coffee grounds?” my son Oliver asked, “Wouldn’t the flavor be stronger with fresh?”
You can definitely use freshly ground coffee – all the recipes I’ve seen call for fresh – and the flavor will be stronger. But I saw a recipe in an article about zero food waste that included used coffee grounds in a cake and I liked the idea. I used our espresso grounds, which seem to accumulate like crazy, and account for a major part of my compost pile. When Oliver went on to ask how much of our used grounds went into the recipe I cringed a little – only 2 tablespoons. Not exactly a major solution to food waste. And – I didn’t say this aloud – expresso beans are expensive, I didn’t want to grind them up just to use in a recipe. If you’re less frugal than I am, go ahead, grind some beans and use the freshly ground coffee. Just let me know how it affects the recipe.
With only Ken and I at home now even a 4-pound piece of pork is a lot in these lock-down times. If I were able to invite 8 to 10 people for dinner, I’d go for a full-size bone-in skin-on shoulder at about 12 pounds. It would roast for twice as long, be just as juicy and tender, plus it would have this delicious crispy skin.