Sometimes, in life and on blog, I feel a little self-conscious about what I eat. I get embarrassed over bringing my grocery basket to the register, wondering what the cashiers must think of me: the girl who grocery shops daily and almost always ends up with a bulb of fennel, citrus fruit, and a little something from the olive bar. I worry that you all might be getting sick of recipes that call for lemon slices, orange zest, shaved fennel, and olives. My cooking crutches are no secret.
This time around, I’m resisting the temptation to turn my crutch ingredients into a salad and instead I’m incorporating them into a braise. We’re going to add pork shoulder to the grocery list and treat it to a long, slow simmer with my favorite ingredients. The richness of the pork will be countered with the slight bitterness of orange peel, briny olives balanced with sweet fennel. Hope you’re hungry; this is a good one.
Let’s get things going. Braising will take a while, but prepping is a piece of cake. Cut the pork shoulder into individual portions. Tie them up with kitchen twine so they won’t fall apart in the pot. Take note-if a recipe author warns you that the meat will become so tender you must worry about it falling apart, it’s a sign of very good things to come. Brown the meat in a Dutch oven, then remove and start building your braise. Sauté an onion, toast some fennel seeds. Add a dollop of tomato paste and wedges of fennel bulb. Deglaze with white wine, toss in quartered oranges and a handful of flavorful black olives.
Nestle the chunks of pork into the pot. Pour in some chicken stock and bring it to a bubble. Cover and pop it in the oven until a fork glides, effortlessly, through the braised pork.
It’s hard to think ill of food crutches when they never let you down and lead you to dinners this good. Sweet fennel, briny olives, and bright citrus: it’s an intriguing combination that might just end up on your perma-grocery list, too.
- 2# Pork Shoulder
- Olive Oil
- ½ large Red Onion, diced
- ½ tsp. Fennel Seeds
- 1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
- 1 Fennel Bulb, cut in ¼-1/2 in. wedges, a few fronds reserved
- 1 c. Dry White Wine
- 4 small Blood Oranges, quartered *see notes
- ½ c. Flavorful Black Olives (I used Kalamata; Nicoise or Gaeta would also be good), pitted
- 2 c. Chicken Stock
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- Cut the pork shoulder crosswise into 4 even pieces. Secure each piece with kitchen twine so they will stay together while braising. Season with salt and pepper. Heat about 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy, lidded pot. Brown the meat on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Remove meat from pan and transfer to a rimmed plate. If there is more than a thin coating of fat in the bottom of the pot, drain some off. If the pot seems too dry to sauté onions in, add a little oil.
- Sauté the onion in the Dutch oven until softened, about 2 minutes. Season lightly with salt. Add fennel seeds and tomato paste to clear spots; toast the seeds and caramelize the tomato paste, about 1 minute. Stir to combine with the onions. Add the fennel wedges, season lightly with salt, and sauté, coating with tomato paste and onions, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the oranges and olives and return the pork to the pot, along with any accumulated juices. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. When the liquid reaches a simmer, cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Braise until the meat is tender and just starting to fall apart, about 2 hours. Flip the meat halfway through.
- Transfer the pork, fennel, oranges, and olives and to a rimmed plate or bowl. Remove the string from the pork and tent with foil.
- Meanwhile, place the Dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat. Simmer until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.
- Divide the pork, fennel, oranges, and olives between warm plates (or serve it family style on a large platter). Spoon the reduced braising liquid over the meat and garnish with fennel fronds, if desired.