Pork shoulder and pineapple
Debate rages around whether pineapple should be a pizza topping. The idea of this tropical fruit paired with ham makes some people recoil in horror. Yet pork and pineapple seem to have a long and proud association. Think sweet and sour pork in the Sino culinary repertoire. Or Christmas hams with maple syrup and pineapple glazes, festooned in a cloak of pineapple rings studded with jewels of cherries. Dishes from the Philippines, Cambodia and Hawaii. It seems that often where there are pigs, there are pineapples.
I have to confess to eating the odd Hawaiian pizza in my life, but rarely through choice. It is a flavour profile I have tried to stay away from until my later years. This comes from one of those childhood food memories that will not quite quit: the ’70s dinner staple of ham steak and pineapple. From memory, it was a quick dinner for mum to make. Just pop the ham steaks under the electric grill, turn them and then top with a slice of pineapple. A simple work-night tea. The texture haunts me still. Perhaps it was the rubbery consistency of the thick slice of manufactured meat, or perhaps it was the odd bit of gristle that would catch in my teeth. Whatever it was, the bad memories linger. It’s odd though, because the ham steak of 40 years ago would have been far more wholesome than the more manufactured meat of today. The pork would have been local, small farmed and the roll from which the steaks were cut would have been the amalgamation of all the cured ham bits that didn’t make it into the premium products.
A few years ago, the boys from Balthazar in New York published a cookbook. It contained a glorious recipe for a glazed pork belly, with pineapple in the sauce. It looked so delicious that I couldn’t help but make it and was immediately converted. Since then, I can be quite partial to slipping a bit of pineapple into my pork dishes. This recipe may bring a little inspiration to your Christmas table. It has been made with a portion of shoulder from a rare breed – Berkshire pig. Raised on a small farm in idyllic circumstances, it is rich and a luxury, so a little goes a long way. The subtle sweetness and the ever-present acidity of the pineapple construct a flavour profile that now wins me over every time.
Time: 30 minutes preparation + 6.5 hours cooking
- 1.5kg free-range pork shoulder, skin on, bone in
- black pepper
- vegetable oil
- 1 large onion
- 1 large carrot
- 1 stick of celery
- 1 small pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced into 2.5cm rings
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp dark rum
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 6-8 fresh bay leaves
- 600ml stock
- Remove the pork from the fridge for one hour before you want to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 140ºC.
- Place the pork on a clean work surface, skin-side up. Make sure the skin has been wiped dry. Score the shoulder with a sharp knife or scalpel in a diamond pattern, cutting through the skin but not all the way through the fat into the flesh.
- Rub salt and vegetable oil into all the scores you’ve just made, pulling the skin apart a little if you need to. Brush any excess salt off the surface and then turn the shoulder. Rub in some oil and season the underside of the meat with a few pinches of salt and black pepper.
- Peel the onion and carrot and cut these and the celery into one-centimetre dice. Scatter the vegetables over the bottom of a baking dish that fits the pork shoulder reasonably snugly. Arrange the slices of pineapple around the outside of the tray. Combine the vinegar, tomato paste, rum and brown sugar and drizzle over the pineapple. Add the bay leaves and stock to the baking dish.
- Place the pork in the middle of the tray. Cover with baking paper and then foil and place in the oven. Cook slowly for six hours or until the pork is very tender. Sometimes a more standard piece of meat will take less time, as the muscles are developed differently. Keep the foil tightly fixed during the cooking process to preserve all the liquid.
- Once the meat is tender, remove the foil and paper, turn the oven up to 220ºC and cook for a further 10-15 minutes to crisp up the skin. (It won’t be super crisp like crackling but is still very delicious.)
- Carefully move the meat, pineapple and the vegetables onto a serving dish. If there is too much liquid, you can reduce it to a more syrupy sauce on the stovetop. If there is not enough liquid the pan can be deglazed with a good stock that can then be reduced. The amount of liquid will often depend on the quality of the pork and the seal of the foil.
- Serve with roast potatoes and a crisp green salad.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 18, 2021 as "Pineapple expressed".
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