If Coleman’s is the mustard the British Empire was built on, shoulder of pork has a similar place in the empire that is Ben’s Farm Shop. When we started in the 1980’s the UK food industry was at it’s absolute nadir. Sausages were emulsified and bright pink, bacon would be dripping water before it even touched the pan and ham simply wasn’t ham. Pork roasting joints were lean and cut from the leg and no one had even heard of a spare rib steak.
We were fortunate enough to attract a few customers who seemed to have been waiting for something like us to turn up, and, I have to admit, we were guided by them. Spare rib roast and belly were the cuts they wanted and we were happy to oblige. Since then, the only thing that’s changed has been that the rest of the country has caught up. I remember Jamie Oliver going on about helping British pig farmers by finding uses for unknown, cheap cuts like spare rib steaks. I thought he’d be doing us a favour if he could find a few recipes for leg, fillet and chops.
When we say shoulder, we mean, as do most butchers and foodies, the whole forequarter of pork – to include spare rib roast, steaks and ‘hand and spring’.
As well as the above cuts, forequarter or shoulder, also provides pork with the perfect VLR (lean/fat ratio) for sausages and it was this humble discovery that really got things moving for us. It was really pretty easy to make great sausages from boneless and rindless forequarter pork – at the time, I couldn’t imagine why no one else was doing it.
Anyway, on to some recipe suggestions.
First there was the roast and, by far the best recipe I’ve come across is one of Jane Baxter’s from the early field kitchen days (https://www.riverford.co.uk/recipes/view/recipe/atafu-porchetta-pork-with-braised-fennel)
Jane used to cook it to the point of it being ‘pullable’ but if you’re more in the mood for slicing (particularly with tomorrow’s sanwiches in mind) just knock 20 minutes off the cooking time.
Spare rib steaks are a fantastic, massively underrated cut – better than chops in every way. They come from the neck fillet which Italians cure into coppa di Parma and sell for nearly as much as prosciutto. Us Brits used to use it for collar bacon, with the rind, fat and blade but it was always a bit coarse. It’s much better cured without the rind and makes a good rasher for a bacon sandwich.
Pork spare rib steaks with pears and Stilton butter
They’re good fried, barbecued or grilled but can also be cooked in the oven. The ingredients sound a bit like ’round up the usual suspects’ but that’s why they work.
60g Stilton, crumbled
80g butter, softened
4 firm pears, halved & cored
2 red onions, cut into wedges
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
4 pork spare rib steaks
1 tbsp soft, dark brown sugar
Salt & Pepper
To make the herb butter, combine the Stilton and softened butter and chill.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees centigrade/ Gas 6.
Put the pears (cut side down) and onions in a roasting tin along with the thyme and drizzle over half the olive oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper and put the pork steaks on top. Brush over the remaining oil and season again with salt and pepper.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the pork is lightly golden.
Reduce the oven temperature to 190/Gas 5 , remove the steaks, turn the pears and onions over and sprinkle with brown sugar. Replace the steaks (other way up) and cook for another 35 minutes until the steaks look nicely browned.
Put a blob of herb butter on each steak and allow to melt. Serve with a green salad with plenty of bitter leaves to balance the sweetness of the pears and the pork.
For me, the pulled pork journey started with Slow Roast Pork Shoulder, from the second River Cafe Cook Book in 1997. That fennel, chilli, garlic and lemon combination never fails with pork and this is no exception. I probably left it in the oven for a little too long and hence the shredding rather than slicing.(https://www.riverford.co.uk/recipes/view/recipe/atafu-porchetta-pork-with-braised-fennel) Jane used to cook it to the point of it being ‘pullable’ but if you’re more in the mood for slicing (particularly with tomorrow’s sandwiches in mind) just knock 20 minutes off the cooking time.
You can find the original recipe on https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/return-to-the-river-cafe-5388498.html
Hugh Fernley – Whittingstall has his own version which he calls ‘Donnie Brasco’. He heads east and adds ground ginger, soya sauce and Chinese five spice. You can find it in his meat book or at https://www.theguardian.com/lifestyle/2010/sep/04/organic-pork-recipes-fernley-whittingstall#shoulder-of-pork
The Americans go to almost religious zealot lengths with their pulled pork. For them, it’s a bastion of the slow, ‘pit’ barbecue rather than an oven set on minimum setting and the likes of Adam Perry Lang and, our own Heston Blumenthal take it to ridiculous extremes (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/17/barbecue-pork-shoulder-recipe) involving brining, several stages of barbecuing, wrapping and rewrapping in foil etc, etc. Some recipes even call for periodic brushing with various butter, herb and spice concoctions. On the other hand, my American cousin William swears by putting his bit of Boston Butt (spare rib roast) in a crockpot, pouring a can of root beer over it, switching it on and coming back twelve hours later. You can take your pick but whatever you call, I’d be inclined to forget about crackling and use a pork neck fillet (with no rind). It will absorb the flavours of whatever marinade or spices you use much better an cook more evenly. It is suitable for both slicing and pulling and cooks reasonably quickly. If you’re barbecuing and don’t have complete control over the temperature, wrap it in foil so it doesn’t get too crusty around the outside.