Photography: Earl Carter
Photography: Earl Carter
Photography: Earl Carter
Photography: Earl Carter Photography: Earl Carter
Photography: Earl Carter
Credit: Photography: Earl Carter

Slow-roasted pork shoulder with braised red cabbage

Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. Her latest book is Recipe for a Kinder Life. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

There is something magical about the relationship between cabbage cooked with a little vinegar and the fattier meats, such as pork and duck. The inherent sweetness of cabbage and the bite of the acid sits beautifully against the richness and softness of slow-cooked pork.

And of all the pork cuts, I think it is the shoulder that works best when seeking that wonderful, and for some, elusive, cover of crackling. The structure of the shoulder means there is a higher ratio of meat to fat compared with the popular belly cut. I like to leave the belly for bacon and use the shoulder as my crackling piece.

To achieve the crackling I follow a few basic steps. I dry the skin well, rub it with salt flakes and then rub in a little olive oil. If you’ve had problems in the past with crackling, you could try wiping the skin down with white vinegar before slashing and salting.

I always start the meat in a very hot oven and, once the crackling has “set”, I then turn the temperature down for the long haul. In this recipe I have used a boneless piece of shoulder. If you prefer to cook on the bone, you will need to cook the meat for about five to six hours, and it is best to cover it with foil after the first 30 to 40 minutes.

The vegetables that sit under the pork are there to add flavour to the sauce and to protect the meat from sitting on the bottom of the pan. The cup of water means the vegetables don’t fry in the fat that is released while cooking, and also protects you from a nasty washing-up job. Traditionally they would be discarded after cooking, but I have grown to love their soft unctuousness and feel it a terrible waste just to put them in the compost bin.

Serve them with the cabbage for a complete meal, sans a carbohydrate component. Or, for those who can’t resist some spud, I wouldn’t go past suggesting a little dish of gratin dauphinois on the side.

Slow-roasted pork shoulder with braised red cabbage

Serves 6-8

Slow-roasted pork shoulder

2kg free-range boneless pork shoulder, skin on

salt and pepper

2 onions

2 carrots

2 sticks celery

1 bulb garlic

1 orange, quartered

6-8 fresh bay leaves

olive oil

600ml stock (chicken or vegetable)

Remove the pork from the fridge one hour prior to cooking to let it come up to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 230°C.

Place the pork on a clean work surface, skin-side up. Make sure the skin has been wiped dry. Get a small sharp knife and make scores about half a centimetre apart through the skin into the fat, but not so deep that you cut into the meat. Rub salt right into all the scores, pulling the skin apart a little if you need to. Brush any excess salt off the surface then turn the shoulder over. Season the underside of the meat with a few pinches of salt and black pepper.

Peel the onions and carrots, and slice along with the celery. Break up the bulb of garlic. Scatter the vegetables, along with the orange and the bay leaves, over the bottom of a baking dish that fits the pork shoulder reasonably snugly. Place the pork, skin-side up, on the vegetables, and drizzle with a little oil. Add about a cup of water to the tray and place in the oven. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the skin has started to puff up and you can see it turning into crackling. At this point, turn the heat down to 160°C and roast for a further 2½ hours or until the meat is soft and giving when pushed. Make sure the pan doesn’t dry out during the cooking process and add a little more water if necessary.

Carefully move the meat and the vegetables onto a serving dish, cover loosely with aluminium foil and leave to rest while you make the sauce.

Spoon away any fat in the baking tray, then add the stock (or replace it with water, if you prefer) and place the tray on the gas burner.

Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to scrape up all those lovely sticky tasty bits from the bottom of the tray. Increase the heat and reduce until you have the desired sauce consistency.

To serve, either slice the meat or pull it apart, place it on some of its vegetables and serve with crackling, the sauce and some braised red cabbage.

Braised red cabbage

1 purple onion

olive oil

1 small red cabbage

zest 1 orange

100ml red wine vinegar

salt and pepper

Dice the onion finely. Heat a large heavy-based saucepan, add some olive oil and gently soften the onion over a low heat.

While the onion is softening, shred the cabbage very finely. Once the onion is translucent and soft add the shredded cabbage and orange zest. Cook over a high heat for about five minutes until the cabbage has softened a little, stirring often. Turn the heat down and cover.

Cook for a further 10 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. Turn the heat up, uncover and stir in the vinegar, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until the pork is ready, then reheat and serve.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 1, 2020 as "Have a crackling".

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Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. Her latest book is Recipe for a Kinder Life. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.