Pork Neck Braised in Milk
First of all, I should start off by stating that I never have, and in all likelihood never will, keep Kosher. I love cheeseburgers and salami, and was practically weaned on pork rillettes and scallops wrapped in bacon. But I swear when I was making this – the moment I started pouring cups of milk over a huge slab of juicy pork – it felt a little wrong.
So it was a good thing it turned out so damn delicious. To modern sensibilities, milk-braised pork might seem a little over the top, too indulgent, too much. But the flavors are actually subtle and complex, and the final result is just about as sophisticated as a pot of braised pork neck can get. The meat was beyond succulent – I could’ve sliced it with a butter knife – and the sauce was delicious and not as heavy as I’d imagined with earthy hints of juniper and cinnamon, and classic bursts of rosemary and garlic.
Another reason this recipe is a keeper? It’s ridiculously easy. It took about 20 minutes to prepare (browning the meat, which I’d stuck with rosemary and garlic slivers and sprinkled with salt and pepper, in a casserole dish then dousing in a little wine, then after a few minutes, a whole lot of milk) and then couple hours on its own to braise. Another 10 minutes to strain the curds and herbs out of the sauce, and that’s it. Done.
We served the pork with roasted fennel and potatoes (from the potato stall at the farmer’s market, which has instilled in me a new and seemingly relentless love for potatoes, which we now eat almost every night and my favorite varieties are Spunta and Lustre, which get all crispy on the outside, and I could go on and on and on) and finished up with a cherry pie. We drank a bottle a head. It was a good night.
As for the recipe, which still strikes me as kind of grotesque, it came together like this. I’d never bought pork neck before, but when I went to the butcher to get a piece of beef to roast, it kept staring at me. I find that pork tenderloins in Australia are tiny and so lean that they have little flavor, so I wanted to see how the neck held up to longer cooking times. I did some snooping around and found some pork roast recipes that call for fattier pieces of meat that can withstand braising. The milk as braising liquid is, apparently, a traditional Italian recipe (maiale al latte) that my Italian and I had never heard of.
No matter. Now that we know milk-braised pork, there’s no forgetting. It’s just too good.
PORK NECK BRAISED IN MILK
a 2.5 lb (a bit over a kilo) piece of pork neck
some fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic (optional)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
5 or so juniper berries (optional)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1/2 cup white wine
3 or so cups milk
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the meat. If you want, take a little knife and make incisions in the meat, and use your fingers to shove pieces of raw garlic and fresh rosemary in. Now heat the oil in a large casserole pot on medium-high and brown the meat on all sides (about 2 minutes per side). Add the cinnamon and juniper berries, if using. Once meat is browned, pour in a glug or two of wine and keep the heat on high until the wine is mostly evaporated. Now add enough milk to come halfway up the side of the meat. Bring to a boil then remove from heat. Cover the casserole dish and stick the pot in the oven.
After about 45 minutes, turn the meat over in the pot. It should take another 45 minutes (1.5 hours in total) to cook. If you have a meat thermometer, you can take the meat out of the oven when the internal temperature reads 160F.
The dish can be served just like that, with plenty of bread to soak up the sauce. But! It’s much nicer if you strain and reduce the sauce.
To strain and reduce: remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Pour the sauce through a sieve into a clean pot – you should discard whatever is left in the sieve after pushing on it with the back of a spoon (this will be the curds from the milk and some rosemary, the juniper berries, etc.). Now just pop the pot with the strained sauce on the stove and bring it to a boil, reducing as much as you like.
Serve the meat sliced thickly with the sauce poured on top.
P.S. Not that we’re counting, but…this marks the 200th post on the shortlists.