Versatile ingredients are the key to an inspiring kitchen and an interesting meal. Take ricotta: You can use it for beignets, savory sauerkraut pancakes and even crostini. One of the most adaptable (and satisfying) foundation ingredients to come out of the Tasting Table Test Kitchen recently is braised pork. Seared and then cooked slowly with plenty of aromatics, wine and herbs, it can be taken in numerous directions. We've tried it folded into tortillas for tacos, added to a bowl of broth and noodles for ramen soup, and piled on a sturdy roll and topped with cheese and pickled onions. Then there's our favorite way: sliced and heaped on a plate with a simple green salad on the side.
Red-Wine-Braised Pork Butt with Apples and Thyme
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: Serves 8
Cook Time: 4 hours and 25 minutes
4-pound boneless pork butt
2 tablespoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup grapeseed or canola oil, divided
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise (root end left intact) and peeled
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
1 cup medium-bodied red wine (such as Pinot Noir or a light Cabernet Sauvignon)
4 cups chicken broth
20 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith), cored and quartered
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 lemon, peeled using a vegetable peeler
1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Place the pork roast on a cutting board so the long end faces you and slice through the middle horizontally and nearly to the other side of roast. Open the roast like a book (it should still be attached at one side) and season with about half of the salt and pepper. Close the roast and season the outside with the remaining salt and pepper, then use butcher's twine to tie the roast at 1-inch intervals.
2. Heat a large skillet over high heat for 2 minutes. Add half the oil and then the pork, browning it on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side (if it starts to get dark too fast, reduce the heat). Use tongs to transfer the pork to a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot and set aside. Pour the fat from the skillet into a medium bowl (cool and discard). Use tongs and paper towels to wipe out the skillet.
3. Pour the remaining oil into the wiped skillet. Heat the oil over high heat until it smokes, 1½ to 2 minutes. Add the carrots and place the onions and garlic halves cut-side down in the pan. After about 30 seconds, check the garlic and, if nicely browned, remove from the pan and place on a plate (or cook a little longer if needed). Continue to cook the onions and carrots until the onions are very dark (and almost threatening to burn), about 1 minute longer.
4. Turn off the heat and cool the pan for 1 minute. Turn the heat to medium, pour in the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
5. Pour in the chicken broth, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and carefully pour the broth and vegetables over the pork in the Dutch oven. Add the thyme, apple, rosemary, peppercorns and lemon-zest strips.
6. Cover the pot, place it in the oven and cook until a long-pronged fork can be inserted into the center and twisted without resistance, 3 to 4 hours.
7. Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a large platter. Pour the braising liquid into a large, heat-safe measuring cup. Let the meat cool for 15 to 20 minutes before using a fork to break the roast into chunks. Pour off the fat from the top of the broth, pour some of the jus over the pork and serve.