It was on the menu at a restaurant I've been frequenting recently: braised pork and pappardelle. How do you go wrong with that combination?
Twice I ordered it. And twice I was disappointed. The meat was cooked well enough; but the sauce in which it was entrenched was...off. Not bad per se; just...not right. The mushroom cream sauce was the wrong flavor base for the rich, hearty pork; I wanted, and missed, the acidity of a tomato sauce, the comfort of a rustic ragù featuring carrots, onions and the like.
I'm a sucker for slow cooked, braised dishes where the meat is so tender it basically sloughs off the bone and imparts the flavors of the braising liquid in which it has been immersed for hours. Anything braised that appears on a menu is the dish that I'll likely be eating for that meal. It's my predilection for comfort foods; risotto is another my other kryptonites. I'm enamored of fall and winter dishes because stews relax me, allow me to be mindless: you don't have to ponder one-pot dishes. There isn't much more to comfort food than good ingredients, a heavy pot, low heat, and lots of time. Before I had children braising meat was a byword for reading time in the kitchen. And even now that I have kids, braising is an easy way to have a ready to go meal when we come in from playing outside.
But back to that restaurant, where I sat dejected; somewhere, I knew the braised pork ragù I wanted had a recipe; so when I got home, I perused a few cookbooks for ideas. Most offered techniques in braising; none really described the exact dish I craved. Since the recipe is basically meat + vegetables + braising liquid + low heat + long time, I winged a recipe, throwing in my favorite veggies and using pork shoulder. I actually used a dry rub on the pork shoulder overnight; but I can't exactly say that it provided anything more than a subtle effect on the overall dish.
I began the dish at noon on a Sunday with the comment: "Now we wait five hours." It actually took four hours to get to the desired doneness; and while I was immensely pleased with the dish, it was still a little more brothy than I would have liked, probably because I didn't reduce it enough or make a good slurry with which to thicken the sauce.
Nevertheless: I wasn't disappointed because I had exactly what I wanted. A good rustic ragù overladen with perfectly shredded and braised pork.
Braised Pork Ragù with Pappardelle
· 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast, quartered
· Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
· 1 cup all-purpose flour
· 3 Tbs. olive oil
· 1/2 cup diced bacon
· 1 yellow onion, diced
· 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice
· 2 celery stalks, cut into 3/4 inch dice
· 1 T minced garlic
· 1 3/4 lb. portabello mushrooms, quartered
· 1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
· 1/2 oz venison demi glace
· 6 T tomato paste
· 1 cup red wine
· 3 cups chicken broth
· 1 lb. pappardelle, cooked al dente
· 2 t fresh thyme
· 1 bay leaf
· Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Season the pork with salt and pepper. Toss the pork in the flour, shaking off the excess. In Dutch oven, brown the pork on all sides. Transfer the pork to a dish.
Saute the bacon on low heat until it is crisp and the fat is rendered. Stir in the onions, carrots, celery and cook until tender, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and thyme. Add the mushrooms until browned, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine and the demi-glace (it doesn’t have to venison, it can be another hearty, rich and earthy demi glace; or it can be omitted altogether) and stir until ingredients are combined. Add the pork back into the pot and pour the chicken broth into the pot until the pork is barely covered. Add the bayleaf and cover with a lid.
Put the pot into the oven on the lowest rack for 4-5 hours. I usually check around 3.5 –4 hours to see how tender the meat is; it’s finished when the meat falls apart from prodding with a fork.
Serve over the papardelle with chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano.