This giant pot of awesome came about because I was having some friends over for a dinner party & the main course request was for pork. I have made something very similar with lamb before, so I decided to give it a whirl with pork instead. Also, the fact that pork shoulder costs quite a lot less than a similar cut of beef or lamb makes it a good choice for feeding a crowd on a budget. And right now I don't know anyone who isn't on a budget.
As with all slow-cooked foods, this tasted even better on Day 2, so consider making this in advance if you choose to entertain with it.
Start by breaking down a 6lb pork shoulder (or "butt") into fairly equal size cubes, roughly 2 inches square each. You can skip this step and just get pork stew meat from your butcher, but I dislike buying the random cubes.
However if you are less than secure in your knife skills, or squeamish about having to skin and cube the shoulder yourself, by all means get the butcher to do it for you.
I would recommend buying some loose pork bones from your butcher tho (about 2 lbs). The recipe does not call for them, but they will add a bit of richness to your final product, not to mention you might get lucky and find a little marrow to snack on at the end of the cooking process.
In a small bowl to the side, have about 20-30 prunes, roughly chopped, soak in about 1 cup of Armagnac (or brandy) for 1 hour. Stir occasionally to make sure they all have time to pick up some flavor.
In your heavy-bottomed pot, heat a little olive oil and brown your (seasoned) pork cubes in batches. Try not to rush this step as it adds a nice level of flavor to the finished product. Set aside the browned pieces in a bowl, making sure not to lose any juices that accumulate.
I add about 4-5 slices to the bottom of the pan (heat reduced to medium-low) and render until crispy.
Remove cooked bacon.
Feel free to snack on this, or save to add back into the pot at the end as you prefer.
Into the rendered bacon fat over medium heat goes 1 large diced onion and 4-6 large peeled & chopped carrots. When the onions start to become translucent I add in 4 minced cloves of garlic and allow them to become fragrant for another minute or so.
Then add in the prunes with their Armagnac and stir to get any remaining brown bits (fond) off the bottom of the pot.
Return the browned pork to the pot along with any juices in the bowl. Add in the pork bones if you have them, your bouquet garni, and 1 bottle of red wine.
As always, the rule with the wine is to only use something you would actually drink.
I also add in about 3/4 cup of ruby port, as I like the richness it adds to the finished dish.
Resist the urge to add stock to this mixture, even if you are afraid the liquids do not come up high enough in your pot. Adding stock will vastly change the finished product, leaving you with something quite loose and lacking the rich flavor.
The finished product should be dense and almost sticky.
For the bouquet garni: 3 rosemary stems, 3 fresh thyme stems, 2 bay leaves
I put all of this in a loose tea bag or cheese cloth tied with twine, along with about 8 black peppercorns I crush under the flat of my knife.
Bring the whole mixture to a simmer on your stovetop and then transfer to a 320º oven for 3 hours, lid on, stirring once or twice along the way.
The result should be dense, slightly sweet, and nicely caramelized with very little liquid left at all in the pot.
Remove the bouquet garni & bay leaves, and I find the easiest way to break everything down is with a potato masher. Gently crush the cubes of meat until you have a gently shredded/pulled consistency.
I chose to serve this over polenta, but it would also go very well over either quinoa or couscous. If serving this over polenta, keep it simple. Do not add a ton or milk or cheese to the bubbling mixture. Just water or stock, salt, and maybe a little butter at the end.
As I said, this followed the rule of tasting better on Day 2, so if you have the time try to make it a day in advance. Especially as breaking down the shoulder and browning all the meat takes quite a bit of time, so you might even want to do that the day before if you don't have time to do it all in one day.
Either way, this dish was a BIG hit with my friends, and it easily fed 6 hungry people with leftovers.
Try it out before the cold weather passes.