A few years ago we hosted an “Orphans Thanksgiving” at our house. The guests were friends who, for whatever reason, didn’t connect with family for the holiday. It was a fun night, and keeping with the somewhat irreverent theme, we cooked BBQ Pulled Pork for Thanksgiving. Everyone loved it (sorry, but we like pork way better than turkey), but we all felt that, while tasty, the pork roast should be a bit more formal, like a true “roast”. With that in mind, we worked on a few recipes until we can up with this version of pork that uses a mojo-based marinade and cooks low-and-slow in the oven. Now it’s our “go-to” recipe when we host informal dinners, and holiday dinner parties. This dish is easy to make, but does take time and requires a few extra steps, but it is very much worth it- and the leftovers rock (more on this later).
So what is mojo? And why pork shoulder, and not a loin or rib roast? Well, first, mojo is a Cuban-inspired marinade of garlic, herbs, salt, oil and vinegar. It goes incredibly well with pork and you can tweak the herbs to fit your tastes and even match the sides you plan to make. Many mojo recipes include sour orange juice for a more Caribbean flavor, but we omit it in this recipe so we can use apples and apple cider as a flavor base for a more “fall-themed” sauce. As for the pork shoulder, we use it because when cooked low-and-slow it is the tastiest and most tender cut of pork available. It’s also very affordable. And since we use a bone-out pork shoulder, we can rub the mojo into the outside and inside of the pork for extra flavor. This does mean you need to tie the roast, but it is worth the extra effort.
Making the dish is easy, but is a 2-day project. It also has a few extra steps, but they make the difference between a “good” and “great” roast. On day one you make the mojo by chopping fresh herbs (thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary all work) and garlic and then mixing with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Then you take your pork shoulder (untie it, if already tied), poke a bunch of holes in it and rub the mojo all over the pork. Be sure to cover all the pork, inside and out and push the mojo into all the holes. Then wrap the pork or place it in a large container in the fridge overnight, or up to two days, the mojo will flavor all the meat. The whole thing should take about 15 minutes.
As for day two, remove the pork from the fridge and scrape off most of the mojo from the outside of the roast (the garlic will burn, yuk) and retie the roast (see Notes). Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Next, place a large, lidded dutch oven or heavy pot over medium high heat. Add some olive oil and brown the roast, about 5 minutes on each side until you get a nice crust. Then remove the roast from the pot to a plate or cutting board. Meanwhile, rough chop a few large apples and an onion. Add the apples and onion to the pot with a cup of apple juice or cider. Then place the roast on top of the apples and onions, put the lid on the pot and place the pot in the oven. Cook for 4-6 hours, or until the roast reaches and internal temperature of 190 degrees. And yes, you want a high internal temperature, it breaks down the collagen into the gelatin and makes pork shoulder so tender and “finger-licking-good”. Once the roast reaches 190, remove it from the oven and leave it alone for 1 hour. Then remove the roast from the pot and let it rest for at least 15 minutes on a large cutting board. Then the roast is ready to serve.
As far as a sauce is concerned, the pork goes incredibly well with just applesauce. But you can also use the cooking liquid as a quick jus, or you can make a quick gravy. Usually we strain the apples and onion from the sauce, reduce it while the pork rests and make a quick roux to thicken the gravy. We put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in the gravy to add some brightness and acidity. Good stuff and not much extra work.
So, in the end, you get a tasty and tender pork roast that will easily feed 10-12 people. And while the process takes a few days, the active time is less than 40 minutes. A good return on the effort. And you do get a final bonus, the leftovers. We take any left over pork, cut it into small pieces and place it into a hot skillet with a dash of oil and a bit of chili powder and cumin. After a few minutes the pork crisps-up into something very much like carnitas. The next-day tacos are even more popular than the roast….
Notes Before You Start:
- Tying a roast can seem intimidating but it’s easy if you follow a few steps. First get butchers twine from a kitchen store, or ask your butcher for some (most will give it to you, you just bought a pork roast). Second, when tying, loop the twine around itself a few extra times on the first part if the knot, the twine won’t loosen while you finish the knot.
- Keep the roast partially tied while slicing to get even slices, the pork will be very tender and want to fall apart (this is a good thing)
- Make sure to allow enough time to cook and rest the roast before serving. If you start in the afternoon, you may be eating late.
What You Get: A tasty, tender pork roast. Great leftovers. A frugal dish for a crowd.
What You Need: A large dutch oven or heavy pot really helps here. Also a meat thermometer is a big help with any large roast. (Go get one!)
How Long: 2 days, but only about 40 minutes of active time. This dish takes some planning and time-management. But if you are throwing a party or hosting a dinner, it gives you plenty of flexibility and time to do other things.
- 1, 6-8 pound pork shoulder, bone out
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup white or cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons salt
- 1-2 tablespoons Pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, etc.)
- 3 large apples, roughly chopped
- 1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup apple cider or juice
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (for roux, optional)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (for roux, optional)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
- Combine the fresh herbs and minced garlic with the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix well.
- Untie the pork shoulder (if tied) and poke a bunch of holes in it and rub the mojo all over the pork. Be sure to cover all the pork, inside and out and push the mojo into all the holes. Then wrap the pork or place it in a large container in the fridge overnight, or up to two days.
- Remove the pork from the fridge and scrape off most of the mojo from the outside of the roast and retie the roast. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
- Place a large, lidded dutch oven or heavy pot over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and brown the roast, about 5 minutes on each side until a brown crust forms. Remove the roast from the pot to a plate or cutting board.
- Add the apples and onion to the pot with the apple cider. Then place the roast on top of the apples and onions, put the lid on the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 4-6 hours, or until the roast reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees. Remove the roast from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Slice and serve.
- Optional: To make gravy, strain the apples and onions from the pan juices. Place the pot over medium-high heat and reduce for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place a small pan over medium heat and add the butter and flour, stir constantly and cook for about 3-4 minutes to make a roux. Add the roux to the pan juices, bring to a boil and allow the gravy to thicken. Add the Dijon mustard and whisk into the gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning, serve with the pork roast.
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