December 29, 2002
24 Hour Roast Pork

My family and I traveled up to New Hampshire to visit our cousins, Michael and Ellen, for the weekend. We arrived at the house a little before dinner to find not one, but two dinners cooking. Not to downplay the first dinner (turkey tetrazini) but I was more interested in what was in the oven for the next night. It turns out that is was a Nigella Lawson recipe for slow cooked pork roast; 24 hours to be exact. Now I haven't read any of her cookbooks and have only seen her show once or twice so I can't say anything about her recipes or skills, but I was all set to enjoy a long cooked piece of pork.

There's a similar recipe in the Tra Vigne Cookbook called Forever Roast Pork. However, their definition of "forever" is apparently only 8 hours. I had tried this recipe two years ago and found the results to be somewhat less than had been advertised. To put it bluntly, the meat ended up dry and tasteless. To be fair, at that point in time I didn't really know what I was doing culinarily speaking, so it's entirely possible that it was all my fault. I do remember that I used a much smaller piece of meat than what was called for in the recipe. I probably just sauntered into the supermarket and picked up the first good sized piece of pork I could find.

Michael and Ellen live up in the woods of New Hampshire where you don't just saunter over to the supermarket. Normally, they shop at a nice food co-op, but recently they had purchased half a pig from a local farmer. (By "half a pig" I don't mean that they owned a share of an animal, but rather that they had half a pig's worth of meat filling up an entire freezer -- thank god for extra refrigerators.) I don't know what cut of pork Nigella's recipe called for, but Ellen had just grabbed two appropriately sized pieces of porkcicle and stuck them in the oven. To my dismay, I found once again the slow cooked pork to be quite dry and lacking flavor. Not that it wasn't good eats, especially when slathered with barbecue sauce, but I was hoping for something with a bit more juiciness.

I don't know if I have the wrong expectations for dishes like this but it seems like there must be something we're missing. In the Tra Vigne book, they describe this technique as "dry braising" but maybe it would lead to better results if it wasn't so dry. I wonder what would happen if you cooked a piece of meat low and slow ("forever" or 24 hours, whichever comes first) but added some ambient moisture? Leave the meat dry, but put a pan of water in the oven as well that would evaporate over the course of the cooking time. Would the roast be more juicy when cooked in a humid oven? Unfortunately, I don't have half a pig (or a spare freezer) to test out my theory, but I'll keep my eye out for a good sized piece of pork.