In December of 2008, I watched a seasoned cook at Chez Panisse make this dish, known in Italian circles as maiale al latte, and it blew me away.
At first, I didn't see anything unusual: big meaty pieces of pork that were seasoned generously with salt, then seared until deep golden brown. But what came next more than piqued my interest. The cook started pouring gallons of milk into the pan until it covered about half of the pork, braising the meat until it became rich and tender and the milk began to curdle.
It all seemed so wrong, yet so right.
The dish's origin has been a debate for quite some time. It has been said that it came from the Bologna region of Italy, but many refer to it as a Tuscan dish. However, it easily could have come from any region that grows pig and cattle.
For our version, we swapped in pork shoulder for the traditional pork loin to make it a slightly more indulgent dish. The milk has this magic where it turns even the toughest cuts of meat to delectable pieces of porky goodness.
Once it's done, all you need is a fork.
To learn more, read "In Praise of Pork Shoulder."
Milk-Braised Pork with Fried-Herb Salsa
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time
Cook Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours, plus marinating time
For the Pork:
6 pounds skinless, boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 2-pound pieces
Salt, to taste
16 sage leaves, divided
4 large sprigs rosemary, leaves removed, divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cups whole milk
1 fresh bay leaf
Zest from 1 lemon, removed using a vegetable peeler
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
Crushed red pepper flakes, to serve
For the Fried-Herb Salsa:
Canola oil, for frying
8 large rosemary sprigs, leaves removed
1 bunch sage (about 20 sage leaves)
Salt, to taste
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon, removed using a micro plane
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Make the pork: Place the pork on a clean work surface and season generously with salt and half the sage and rosemary. Wrap in plastic and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Take the pork out of the refrigerator a few hours before cooking to take the chill off; remove and discard the sage and rosemary. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meat and cook, working in two batches so as to not overcrowd, until the meat is a deep golden brown on all sides, about 30 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate and pour any excess grease out of the pot. Place the meat back in the pot and add the milk, bay leaf, lemon zest, garlic and remaning sage and rosemary. Cover the pan and bake on the center rack, turning the meat occasionally until the pork is tender and the milk has curdled and becomes golden brown, about 2½ to 3 hours.
3. Meanwhile, make the fried-herb sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, pour enough oil until it reaches a depth of 1 inch. When the oil is hot, fry the herbs in batches until just crisp, about 40 to 45 seconds. Remove using a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-lined plate. Season with salt and set aside.
4. In a mortar and pestle or using your knife, pound the garlic into a paste. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add the fried herbs and gently pound the herbs until they have just broken down. Stir in the olive oil and set aside.
5. To serve, slice the pork and serve with the fried-herb salsa and crushed red pepper flakes.