March 20, 2015

Pasta with Braised Pork Ragu

It's been a crazy week full of exams, lots of research, and a huge presentation for the American Association of Candy Technologists. All I want to do at this point is have an introvert recovery day with naps, Netflix, and lots of good food. If I could have one dish, it would be this pork ragu. It's savory, hearty, and full of carbs, all of which sound amazing right now.

This recipe does take a long time to make, but it is well worth it. It starts with about two pounds of pork roast, which I slice into 2" thick medallions to speed up the braising process. If you are willing to devote an entire day to this, get a three pound bone-in cut and leave it whole (bone-in meats have so much more flavor and tenderness). I, however, am willing to wait only so long to eat, so I try to cut time where I can. Whatever piece of meat you choose, make sure you sear it until it's thoroughly browned. You can't replicate the flavor of properly browned meat, and it adds to the overall complexity of the sauce.

Once the pork is seared, I remove it from the pot. There should be plenty of pork fat left in the pan, and it would be a sin to let that go to waste. One of my favorite uses is for cooking vegetables. Coincidentally, this sauce involves some onions and garlic. It's crazy how that worked out. Anyway, I cook them in the pork fat until they are tender and fragrant and then add some crushed tomatoes, red wine, chicken broth, and herbs.

I always prefer San Marzano tomatoes, but if you only want to splurge occasionally this is not the time. The flavor of San Marzanos are highlighted in dishes where it can really stand out, namely simpler recipes like pasta all'amatriciana (which is a wonderful dish if you don't have too much time). Here, the tomatoes are going to be cooked for hours with a bunch of other ingredients, so you won't be able to taste as much of a difference between regular canned tomatoes and San Marzanos.

The pork goes back into the pot after the sauce ingredients are added. I try to reduce clean up time, so I love when I can stick with just one pot. That means planning strategically, since you want one that is wide enough to sear the pork in only one or two batches, deep enough to hold everything without overflowing, and small enough that the pork is covered completely while braising. Admittedly, that's a little tricky, but the cleanup time is worth it.

Hopefully your pork is covered by the braising liquid even if that means using two pots because otherwise you have to baby it for two or three hours. The whole point of braising is to cook the meat in a liquid until it's incredibly tender (you can do this in the oven or on the stove). If your meat isn't covered, you have to flip the pieces fairly frequently so they cook evenly. This may take a little longer, too, since not everything is immersed for the whole time. The cooking time is more of a recommendation anyway; it's done when you can shred it with a fork. You can keep cooking it beyond that because it will only get more tender (up to a certain point), but just be careful that the sauce is still liquid enough. If you go past the three hours, make sure you keep an eye on the liquid levels and add chicken stock accordingly.

When you find you can shred the pork easily with a fork, remove the meat from the pot with some tongs or a slotted spoon and set it aside until it's cool enough to handle. You might want to enlist some helpers for the next part, since shredding two pounds of meat can get dull pretty quickly. I've heard of people dumping it in a stand mixer and running it with a paddle attachment on low speed until it's broken up into bite-sized pieces, but I'm too much of a perfectionist to do it any way other than by hand. Once it's finally shredded, I return the meat to the pot and let it cook for just a little bit while the pasta cooks.

There is definitely an art to choosing the right pasta. Different shapes pair well with different sauces, so here I go with some large penne or ziti, preferably with ridges. The meat sticks to (or inside) the tubes, and the ridges catch more of the braising liquid/sauce. Of course, all pasta is good, but larger tubes are best here. Make sure you cook it in liberally salted water until just al dente and toss it with the ragu before serving. Parmesan cheese is a welcome addition at this point as well. If you decide to make this dish, please please comment below and send me pictures so I can live vicariously through your cooking adventures and ignore my umpteenth meal at the dining hall.

2 lbs Boneless Pork Roast
1 Yellow Onion, Diced Finely
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 28 oz Can Crushed or Pureed Tomatoes
1 Cup Red Wine
½ Cup Chicken Broth
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 Sprig Oregano
1 Sprig Rosemary
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
2 lbs Pasta

Season the pork with salt and pepper and cut into 2" thick medallions. Heat some oil in a large pot. Add the pork and sear on all sides until browned. Remove from the pot.

Cook the onion and the garlic in the pot for 2 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, chicken broth, thyme, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder, and onion powder. Bring to a simmer and add the pork.

Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and braise for 2-3 hours or until tender, adding more liquid as necessary. Shred the pork and toss in the braising liquid.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta. Toss the pasta with the ragu.

Serves 8-10 (leftovers are wonderful!)
Adapted from Dinner: A Love Story

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