I finally got a chance to try out the lovely 4.2 qt Dutch oven that Emile Henry sent me on the Big Green Egg. For its maiden voyage, I decided to try a batch of carnitas. To make these tender, yet crispy bites of porky wonderfulness, you need to provide a nice, even heat while the fat is rendering from the meat. Then after the fat has rendered, you need to reduce the liquid and crisp up the meat.

4 pounds pork shoulder roast (aka Boston Butt)
Juice of 3 oranges (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

Set your grill up for a 5 hour cook over indirect heat at 350°F. On the Big Green Egg I used an inverted plate setter with a trivet on it to diffuse the heat and keep the bottom from burning.

While the grill is heating up, cut the pork into big (4 to 6-inch) chunks, discarding any nasty pieces of connective tissue, but keeping all of the fat.

Combine all of the ingredients in a Dutch oven, and stir to combine. Cover the oven with a lid and set it on the grill. Let it simmer for an hour. The hot juice should have started to break down the fat in the meat.

Remove the lid and let it simmer for another hour. Keep checking and stirring once an hour until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pork has started to fry in its own fat (about another 2 hours).  Then check it every 15 minutes to make sure the meat is getting crispy, but not becoming dry or burned. Total cook time for this batch was just over 4 hours.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I dearly love carnitas, and this batch was one of the better ones I’ve made. Making a smaller batch (just 4 pounds) and cutting the meat into larger pieces gave me a better crisp/tender ratio. There was lots of nice crunchiness, but the meat didn’t break down too much or dry out. Perfect.

The Emile Henry Dutch oven performed flawlessly. The lid sealed nice and tight to keep the heat and juices in for the braising part of the recipe, yet the pot is wide enough to let the liquid evaporate when I wanted to crisp the meat. This is part of their Flame-Top line, so even when the fire got a little too hot at one point, the pot handled being “flame-licked” just fine and provided nice, even heat.

I really like the design of the lugged handles and the knob on the lid. They really fit the hand and it’s easy to get a good grip on them, even while wearing grilling gloves. I’m sure looking forward to more cooks with this great Dutch oven.

Pork Ragú

I had this velvety meat sauce a while back at an Italian restaurant and knew immediately that I needed to figure out how to make it at home. But months pass, and I kinda forgot about it. Then Chris over at Nibble Me This posted about a similar dish, Milk Braised Pork, and I am inspired.

Ragù alla Bolognese is a (lotsa) meat and (not so much) tomato-based sauce originating in Bologna, Italy. By simmering ground and cubed meat in tomatoes, wine, stock and milk for a long time the meat softens and begins to break down into the sauce. It takes some time to make, but the results are so much more than worth it.

4 pounds pork butt, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground sweet Italian pork sausage
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Italian herb mix (I used Penzey’s mix of oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup  chicken stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 pound pasta (Mrs. Leeper’s gluten-free corn pasta)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Season the cubed pork butt with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, oven-safe pan or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork butt, about 3-5 minutes a side. Remove the browned pieces to a large bowl and add the sausage to the pan. Crumble and cook until it is just no longer pink, about 10 minutes.

Add onion and garlic to the sausage and cook until the onion is soft and the sausage has started to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, browned pork butt, and any juices from the bowl. Stir well and cover the pan. Cook until the tomatoes have started to break down, about 10 minutes

Uncover and stir in the herbs, red pepper, and milk. Let mixture come to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the milk combines with the tomatoes and starts to soften the meat, 40-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Stir in the wine and stock and bring the pan back to simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, and pork butt cubes have completely fallen apart, about 3 hours. If the sauce starts to dry out before the meat is tender, add a little more stock or water and continue cooking. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Cook pasta according to the directions on the package and drain. Return the pasta to the pan you cooked it in and add a couple of scoops of the ragú, toss well to wet the pasta.

Serve the pasta topped with more ragú and some grated Parmesan.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The sauce was almost everything I had hoped it would be – rich and meaty with just enough canned tomato to add some sweetness and help pull the flavors together.

The 4 stars is for all the things I plan to do to improve the sauce.  Next time Ill try a little spicier sausage, maybe half sweet and half hot. Some of the recipes I saw called for the classic Italian soffritto of diced celery and carrot in addition to the onion and I think this would make the sauce even more complex. Also, I’d cut the pork butt into smaller cubes, probably an inch or less to make the sauce smoother.  Last, but not least, I’d serve it like I had it in the restaurant – over a bed of polenta.

P.S. This recipe makes a ton of sauce, almost a triple batch, which is fine because it freezes well and the only thing better than ragú sauce the first night is more ragú sauce the next night ;).

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