Pork Loin Braised in Milk, Bolognese Style

In September the great Marcella Hazan died, and like most cooks, nay eaters, I was saddened to hear of her passing.  I have been known to cook from her cookbooks (yes, here and here and here).  Many others have written about her death, with much gratitude surrounding the way that she taught them to cook among other things.  I add my tribute to her as well.

While I have said a lot about her background in some of those earlier posts, one thing I haven't yet written about is the night we almost saw Marcella Hazan.  She's of such celebrity status that the almost sightings are as elevated an experience as the actual sightings, so celebrate we must.  Many years ago, Oliveto's, an Oakland retaurant within walking distance, held a night of cooking with Marcella Hazan.  She apparently consulted on the menu and I imagine did a little bit of bossing around in the kitchen--actually I suspect that's mere fantasy.  She was far too much of a fan of Olivetto's to do any bossing around.  In fact, she had this to say about the restaurant: 
"My test of a restaurant’s food is to ask “How soon after having a meal there would I want to go back?” If I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, I could eat at Oliveto in Oakland every day. Paul Canales, Oliveto’s chef, has found and taken unfailing command of what everyone who cooks struggles to discover: the straight road to pure, sincere, deeply satisfying flavor. I could choose from one of Paul’s menus by throwing a dart at it, knowing I could never make a mistake."  

Wow, I stand corrected.  Nope, she certainly did no micromanaging.

Anyway, those many years ago, a dear friend of ours was down from Seattle, so we marched right up to Oliveto's where we ate our fill.  However, more importantly, we were introduced to ribollita, something we had not yet known was what would make our lives feel complete.  And when I speak to you of ribollita, I am not speaking of the soup, which is itself good, but of the two-to-three day old ribollita that you pour over a slice of good bread in a skillet and cook until the liquid has been cooked completely out of it, and all you have left is a heap of pan fried, broth- and tomato-soaked, bean-smeared bread that makes you wonder why anyone would eat it as a soup. 

We did not meet Marcella, nor did we even glimpse her at one of the nearby tables, despite the rumors that she was in the restaurant that night.  Yet we ate knowing that she had given her approval to our meal.  That was thrill enough.

When I turned to celebrate the divine Ms. Hazan, it was not the ribollita or the Bolognese sauce (one of my favorites) that I reached for, but for one of comfort food that is easy to make.  Given that this recipe needs only seven (yes, seven) easy-to-procure ingredients and one pot, this was an simple one to choose.  While it is not a pretty little dish, it is a comfy one.  It's a tasty pork shoulder braised in milk, which curdles into these golden, chewy, salty nuggets that lift a simple meat dish to a new level.  

And the bonus:  the meat and curds are equally tasty the next day (or even the day after) on toasted bread for lunch.  A sandwich worth raising in salute to one of the great chefs we lost in 2013. 

One Year Ago: Prawn and Ginger Dumplings
Two Years Ago: Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes
Three Years Ago: Sweet and Sour Pork with Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Pork Loin Braised in Milk, Bolognese Style
Adapted from  Marcela Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking

4-6 Servings

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 boneless pork shoulder butt
Freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 to 3 cups whole milk
2 to 3 tablespoons water

1.  Choose a heavy-bottomed pot that can snugly accommodate the pork. Heat butter and oil on medium high.  When the butter foam subsides, brown the meat, fat side down first, then all sides evenly. If the butter becomes very dark, lower heat.

2.  Add salt, pepper and 1 cup milk. Turn heat down so that milk simmers slowly. Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar. Cook at a lazy simmer for approximately 1 hour, turning the meat occasionally, until the milk has thickened into a nut-brown sauce. The exact time it will take depends largely on the heat of your burner and the thickness of your pot.

3.  When the milk reaches this stage of being thick and nut brown-- and not before (Marcela cautions)--add 1 cup milk. Simmer for 10 minutes, then cover the pot. After 30 minutes set the lid ajar. Continue to cook at minimum heat, and when you see there is no more liquid milk in the pot, add another 1/2 cup of milk.

4.  Continue cooking until the meat feels very tender when prodded with a fork and all the milk has coagulated into small nut-brown clusters. Altogether it will take between 2 1/2 and 3 hours. If before the meat is fully cooked you find that the liquid in the pot has evaporated, add another 1/2 cup of milk. Repeat if it should become necessary.

5.  When the pork is tender and all the milk in the pot has thickened into dark clusters, transfer the meat to a cutting board. Let it settle for a few minutes, then cut it into slices about 3/8 inch thick and arrange them on a warm serving platter.

6.  Tip the pot and spoon off most of the fat. There may be up to a cup. Be careful to leave all the coagulated milk clusters. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water and boil away the water over high heat using a wooden spoon to scrape brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pot. Spoon all the pot juices over the pork and serve immediately.


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