The Chef and the Slow Cooker

Photo courtesy Andrew Thomas Lee

“I love milk-braised pork. It is moist and succulent and really gives you a glimpse into the reality that Italians do not eat pasta at every meal and don’t all have Ferraris. The diversity of the Italian food map is wonderful, and if you look at it you will see that braised dishes like this are a beautiful staple in the north. And they will often serve them up with some polenta. Pork, milk, nuts, figs…this is such a deliciously savory poem.” -Hugh Acheson

Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Fennel, Pecans & Figs
 
Makes 6 servings—Recipe adapted from The Chef and The Slow Cooker by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2017)
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • ½ cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped
  • 8 dried figs, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Instructions
  1. Preheat a 6- to 8-quart slow cooker on the high setting for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Pat the pork shoulder dry and season it well all over with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork and sear it for about 3 minutes on each side until golden, for a total of about 12 minutes.
  4. Remove the pork from the pot and set it aside. Add the onions, bay leaves, cloves, and milk to the pot and cook, scraping up any browned bits, for 3 minutes.
  5. Add the milk mixture to the slow cooker, then add the pork. Cover with the lid, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 8 to 12 hours, until the pork is very tender.
  6. Before serving the pork, prepare the fennel by removing the bottom ½ inch of the root ends and cutting away the branches about 1 inch above the bulbs. Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and then into thirds.
  7. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel pieces, season them well with salt, and cook for 5 minutes, until caramelized. Then flip the pieces over and cook until done, about 5 minutes more. Remove the fennel from the skillet and set it aside. Add the pecans and figs to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and chopped parsley, and immediately transfer the mixture to a small bowl.
  8. Remove the pork shoulder from the slow cooker and place it on a platter. Arrange the fennel around the pork, and garnish the dish with the pecan and fig crumble. The pork will be so tender that you don’t really have to carve it—you can just pull it apart and serve it.

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