Cut from the leg, pork butt has a lot of flavor but not a lot of fat. That makes it ideal for braising, since the liquid (in this case chicken stock) keeps the meat moist during cooking. The texture of the braised pork butt reminds me of roast fresh ham, which is also cut from the leg. The butt is a delicious, lean chunk of meat that can take either a lot of seasoning or just a little. Here, I keep it pretty simple. After braising it with Jerusalem artichokes and raisins, I cover the meat with a crust of hazelnuts and bread crumbs that gets browned and crunchy when run under the broiler just before the butt is served with its savory sauce. It doesn’t really need an accompaniment, but a little crisp salad wouldn’t be out of place.
- 1 cup golden raisins
- ½ cup cognac or brandy
- ¼ cup toasted, peeled, and crushed hazelnuts
- ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus 4 whole sprigs of thyme
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Coarse sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1(5-pound) boneless pork butt
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 head garlic, split in half crosswise
- 4 shallots, peeled and quartered
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
- 2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes, peeled
- 1 pound cipollini onions, peeled
1. In a medium pot, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add the raisins, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain. Transfer the raisins to a small bowl and cover with the cognac. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight, or for up to 5 days.
2. Mix together the hazelnuts, bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons of the butter, chopped thyme, and lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Divide the mixture in half and roll each half out between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap into a ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours, or up to 3 days.
3. Put a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
4. Drain the raisins and reserve the cognac. If there is any excess fat on the pork butt, trim it off and discard. Cut the pork butt in half and season with salt and pepper. In a medium cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the pork, garlic, shallots, and 2 of the sprigs of thyme and sear the pork until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
5. Deglaze the pot by adding the reserved cognac and scraping up any browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pot. Bring the cognac to a boil, and let reduce until almost all the liquid in the pot has evaporated. Add the white wine and chicken stock and return to a boil. Transfer the pork to a plate. Strain the contents of the pot through a colander set over a bowl, reserving the liquid and discarding the garlic, shallots, and thyme.
6. Put the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and onions and cook, stirring, until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the pork back to the pot along with the reserved liquid and remaining 2 sprigs of thyme and bring to a simmer. Add the raisins, cover, and transfer the pot to the oven.
7. Braise for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender. (At this point, the pork can be cooled and refrigerated overnight, if you wish. This cooling will allow any fat in the braising liquid to come to the top for easy removal. The pork can then be reheated in a 325°F oven for about 30 minutes.)
8. Preheat the broiler. Remove the hazelnut crust from the refrigerator. Transfer the pork to a baking sheet and top each pork half with a piece of crust. Broil until the crust is golden brown, about 3 minutes. If the sauce is too thin or is not flavored intensely enough, ladle most of it off into another pot and simmer it until it thickens and intensifies. Then add it back to the original pot. Slice the pork, serving equal pieces of the crust. Spoon the braising liquid over the pork and serve.