Braised Pork Shoulder with Polenta
If possible, braise the pork a day before serving it; this is one of those rare dishes that is actually better after it sits overnight, which makes it a perfect make-ahead dish for a dinner party. Friggitello and Nardello peppers—both sweet peppers that are popular in Italy—are worth seeking out for their complex, almost fruity flavor, but if you can’t find them, you can use gypsy peppers, any type of Italian or Hungarian sweet pepper, or even bell peppers.
For the braised pork:
- 1 boneless pork shoulder, about 3 to 4 lb. (1.5 to 2 kg), cut into
1 1/2-inch (4-cm) cubes
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Fennel pollen or ground fennel seed, to taste
- All-purpose flour as needed
- 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) vegetable oil or lard
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 1/4 fennel bulb, finely diced
- 3 whole garlic cloves
- 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) dry white wine
- 1 can (14 oz./440 g) whole plum tomatoes, preferably San
- 8 green Friggitello peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered
- 8 red Nardello peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered
- 12 fresh sage leaves plus 1 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 to 2 quarts (1 to 2 l) pork or chicken broth
For the polenta:
- 4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l) whole milk
- 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml) water
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups (9 oz./280 g) polenta
- 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) (3 oz./90 g) unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup (1 1/2 oz./45 g) grated pecorino romano cheese
- 1/3 cup (1 1/2 oz./45 g) grated grana padano cheese
- 1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C).
Season the pork generously with salt, pepper and fennel pollen. In a large bowl, toss the pork cubes with just enough flour to lightly coat.
In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Working in batches, add the pork and sear, turning as needed, until well browned on all sides, about 6 minutes per batch. Do not crowd the pan; the pork pieces should not touch one another in the pot. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a plate.
Carefully pour off most of the fat from the pot. Return the pot to the stove, increase the heat to high and add the onion, carrot, celery, fennel and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot with a spoon, until the vegetables begin to caramelize and stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and stir to scrape up the delicious caramelized bits. When the wine has evaporated, turn off the heat. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes as you add the tomatoes and their juice to the pot. Add both peppers, all the sage and the rosemary and return the pork to the pot. Add enough broth so that only the top quarter of the pork is exposed.
Cover the pot and place in the oven. Braise for 2 hours, then remove the lid and continue cooking until fork tender, about 1 hour more, checking occasionally and adding more broth if necessary to keep the pork mostly submerged.
About 1 hour after you put the pork in the oven, make the polenta: In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, water and salt and bring to a simmer. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, add the polenta in a thin, steady stream. Continue stirring constantly until the polenta has absorbed the liquid and resembles porridge, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cut the butter into small pieces and distribute them evenly on top of the polenta without stirring; you want to create a cap of melted butter on top of the polenta. Adjust the heat until you see tiny bubbles in the melted butter (you don’t want large bubbles forming in the polenta itself). Cook without stirring for 2 hours.
When ready to serve, stir both cheeses and the rosemary into the polenta until the butter and cheeses are thoroughly incorporated. Spoon the polenta into warmed bowls and spoon the braised pork with some of its braising liquid on top. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.
Ari Rosen, Co-Owner and Chef, Scopa, Healdsburg, CA.