How many blood oranges does a girl have to squeeze to get 1 1/2 cups of juice? Nine. I won’t forget it because I bought eight the day I’d braise this pork shoulder and on the last orange, the juice squirted into the bowl, yes, but also across onto the page that held this recipe, christening this new cookbook of mine. As if to say, no, you’re gonna need that other regular orange in the fridge, too. Nine it is.
The cookbook is Aida Mollenkamp’s “Keys to the Kitchen” and I’m pretty sure the page for this recipe is not the last one to get stained. I’ve got about a dozen other pages bookmarked. Her cookbook is a wealth of information, and it’s already taken a spot in my section of essential cookbooks, very close to Mark Bittman, Yotam Ottolenghi, and the classic “Joy of Cooking.” Actually, in one of the Amazon reviews, someone referred to her book as a modern, updated version of that classic cookbook. And I can see why.
Before she even gets to the recipes, Mollenkamp walks you through the grocery store and explains the different cuts of meat on different animals and the ways to cook each piece. She explains the proper way to store foods and the basic equipment for a home kitchen. More than 100 pages in, she gives fundamental recipes (basic and short) for things like mashed potatoes, roasted garlic, and basic tomato sauce.
On her website, Mollenkamp says this of her cooking style:
My cooking style is west coast eclectic as I combine fresh, seasonal, whole ingredients with the ethnic flavors of contemporary California. Though my food is rooted in European techniques and Mediterranean ingredients, I take artistic license to mix things up for recipes that are creative, reliable, easy, and healthy.
There are more than 300 recipes in this book rife with tips and helpful illustrations. With each one, she aims to teach you a technique and ways to riff off of that technique and recipe. There’s oatmeal souffle, a coconut chai coffee cake, and a spring herb pasta with peas. The braised chile chicken with raisins and almonds could happen soon. Or maybe the rosemary-lemon oven-fried chicken.
She calls this “the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook.” I like that a lot. Who doesn’t want to be those things? And let me tell you, as I lugged a 4-pound piece of pork shoulder, beautifully browned on all sides of course, from the pot to the plate, I felt accomplished. I felt like I’ve come a long way from the tough scrambled eggs coming out of my freshman dorm.
How many cookbooks does a girl need to cook? I love my growing collection and wouldn’t give it up, but I could definitely get by for a while on this one alone.
blood orange-braised pork shoulder
We really loved this pork shoulder served over polenta. For my sisters, we turned this into tacos. Lila said it was so good she couldn’t stop. The orange juice and whiskey impart an unmistakable sweetness to the meat, which is very tender, and that’s hard to resist.
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 1/2 to 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt)
2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed, or peanut oil
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed blood orange juice (from 9 or so oranges)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
1/2 cup whiskey
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)
15 black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 yellow onions, cut into eighths
Heat oven to 325°F and arrange rack in the middle of the oven (if your oven allows that, I’ve gotta go a little lower to fit my Dutch oven).
Mix the brown sugar and salt in a bowl until combined. Rub the mixture all over the pork and set aside at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, heat the oil in an ovenproof Dutch oven or big, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until it’s just beginning to smoke. Carefully add the pork and cook until all sides are well browned, just 2 to 3 minutes on each side without moving it. Then, move this huge piece of meat to a plate and set aside. You can do it! I did.
Back at the pot, add the orange juice, broth, whiskey, soy sauce, and vinegar to the pot, scraping the bottom of the pot to pick up any browned bits. Increase the heat a bit and when the liquid comes to a boil, bring the heat back down to medium-low. Add the garlic, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, thyme, onions, and the pork. Once the liquid reaches a simmer, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is fork-tender, falling off the bone, and has an internal temperature of at least 155°F, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Baste the pork occasionally during that time.
Discard the cinnamon stick and peppercorns if possible, but I didn’t go fishing for 15 tiny balls. Just watch out for them as you eat. You’ll fish out the pieces of thyme as you find them. Then, use two forks to pull the meat off the bone and shred. Get rid of the bone. Stir the meat in the braising juices and watch as it soaks it up. Serve shredded pork with braising juices poured over the meat and a side of polenta, potatoes, rice, or tortillas. Keep any leftover meat stored with the braising juices in the fridge for up to 3 days, and reheat in a pot over medium heat after getting rid of some of the fat.
Serves 8. Recipe from “Keys to the Kitchen” by Aida Mollenkamp.