Each Christmas, we try to make something extra special to serve for Christmas Day. It’s usually a pretty informal affair; I try to make something that can sit all day, served alongside a simple salad and the other amazing DIY food presents we received from friends and family, so that anyone that drops by to help us with our holly-jollies can have a bite to eat. Last year, we rolled a pork loin in a huge piece of pork belly to make our own porchetta for Christmas dinner. The year before that, it was a standing rib roast with dijon creme fraiche. But nothing we have made for Christmas dinner (and I stress “NOTHING!”) compares to this recipe for slow-cooked pork shoulder, the inexpensive cut of meat rendered spoon-tender while the skin puffs and inflates to make the finished product more like a blissfully tender and moist pork roast topped with a thick layer of deep-fried chicarron.
For such impressive, foolproof results, the technique couldn’t be simpler. Find an 8-1o pound skin-on pork shoulder (often referred to as a “picnic roast” here in Maine), and rub it all over with salt and pepper. Cooking it in a 250 degree oven for eight hours allows all of the connective collagen in the hard-working pig’s shoulder to break down into gelatin, resulting in an almost otherworldly tenderness, while retaining as much moisture as possible.
This slow-and-low treatment doesn’t do the skin any favors, however, leaving it tough and almost inedibly chewy. Fixing that requires nothing but some extra heat. After letting the roast finish cooking, we take it out of the oven to rest while we bring the oven up to 500 degrees. A blast at this high heat causes all of the tiny pockets in the skin to fill with steam from the meat underneath so that it inflates, turning light, crunchy, and a beautiful golden brown, with a layer of succulent fat underneath.
The resulting roast can be picked apart with your bare hands, dipped into sauce and eaten as-is, or pulled and chopped to make into sandwiches. Encourage your guests to combine a little lean meat, a little fat, and a few bits of crunchy skin onto a Portuguese roll. The combination of textures and temperatures is stunningly delicious. For good measure, top your sandwich with a bit of homemade chimichurri.
Super Crispy-Skinned Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder
Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats; Serves 8
- 1 bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder, 8 to 10 pounds (sometimes called a “Picnic Cut” in the Northeast)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Crusty rolls, chimichurri, or barbecue sauce (optional)
Move oven rack to middle position, and preheat oven to 250.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and set a wire rack inside it. Season pork on all sides with salt and pepper (or whatever you’d like), and place on wire rack. Transfer to oven and roast until pork shows very little resistance to a fork, about eight hours.
Remove pork from oven and tent with foil. Allow the pork to rest for at least 15 minutes, although the pork can be held at this stage until just before you are ready to serve, up to several hours. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees, and allow to preheat. Remove foil and return pork to oven. Roast until skin is very blistered and puffy, rotating every 5 minutes, about 20 minutes total. Remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest an additional 15 minutes.
To serve, either bring the roast to the table as-is and let your guests pick at it themselves to dip in accompanying sauces, or chop in the kitchen and serve bits of meat, fat, and crispy skin on Portuguese rolls.