When I first purchased Marcella’s book, after pining over many choices for Cooking Italy I had some time to kill before meeting a friend. I went into Provence, a french bakery, for a coffee, a pastry and a place to begin reading the book. I say “reading” because the first fifty pages outline the fundamentals of Italian cuisine. And, as usual, I strike up a conversation with a manager and start talking Marcella Hazan. He assured me that not only did I pick the right cookbook author to follow, but I needed to make the pork braised in milk right away.
At first, my head went “ugh” as nothing about that sounded good. But he was a self-assured foodie type and I couldn’t squelch my curiosity. I waited until the weather would be cooler (missed the boat on that one) and we could welcome Autumn with a classic bolognese pork cooked in milk.
This week’s meat dish is similar to the bolognese sauce in that there are no herbs driving flavor, and it’s a long slow cook using milk. The pork simmers in the milk for hours, turning out an uncommon nutty flavor and a succulent, fork tender piece of pork.
How would anyone know to do this? I would have lived my entire life as an experimental, improvisational cook and never put the pig with the cow in this way. My favorite sandwich is ham and cheese, proof that the pig and the cow can harmonize, but I just never expected this. When I think pork, I think sultry, savory, olive oil and lots of herbs. I never think “why don’t I just cook this with milk?
This is precisely what makes Italian cooking so classically wonderful and unique. If you’ve been following the Cooking Italy series, you can see the “region” coming through, which would have been based on specific food sources for the area. Italian food is surely not just the red sauce many Americans have experienced. It is a large variety of regional cuisines based on terrain, the foods natural to the region, and the ingenuity of the home cooks.
I have not exactly gotten my pork photography legs yet, and with a minute of daylight left, this was the best I could do. Notice the golden brown tones of the sauce. This was the milk cooked down, and it’s an amazing, dreamy taste that you must try for yourself. And, the only spices are salt and pepper. There was actually a much thicker sauce that didn’t want to be in front of the camera, but this is so much better than I could get it to look.
I used a rib roast of pork (bone removed), but it didn’t have much fat on it, and that is always a problem with pork that tends to be very dense. You can also try this method with a pork butt, which I may just do the next time and take advantage of the pork fat.
The left overs got an original Spinach Tiger twist making sandwiches of french bread, pork and a muscadine grape reduction with fennel, which I will post soon.
This is a slow cooking process, but almost no prep time, so perfect for a day you are working from home with little time to cook. The meat is browned in butter and vegetable oil and baptized with milk. The key is to use a pan that barely has room for the pork, so that is continues to soak up the milk. As the milk cooks down, it get thick, golden brown and your kitchen will fill up with a nutty, creamy aroma.
1 T butter
2 T vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds pork rib roast (see notes)
Black pepper, freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 cups of milk (or more), divided 1 cup, 1 cup, 1/2 cup
Use a heavy bottomed pan which just fits the pork. Heat butter and oil.
Add meat when butter foam subsides.
Brown pork on all sides.
Add salt, pepper and 1 cup of milk, adding it slowly.
When milk comes to simmer for 20-30 seconds, turn heat way down.
Cover, but not all the way.
Cook for one hour, turning meat occasionally, until milk has thickened.
Once the milk reaches the nut brown stage, add one more cup of milk. Simmer ten minutes.
Cover lid tightly for another 30 minutes.
Continue cooking until there is no more liquid milk in pot, and then add last 1/2 cup of milk. When the pork is fork tender, and the milk is in dark clusters, it is finished.
You may need to tip the pot and spoon off the fat, leaving the milk clusters. You might also need to add a few tablespoons of water and boil it down, scraping all the cooking residue.
Transfer to cutting board. Serve immediately.
Notes on meat: Have butcher detach meat from bones, but split the ribs into three parts and cook the bones also. I wasn’t able to do that, and purchased a rolled pork rib roast, detached from the bones.