No. 4 – Pork & Beans
Part I: The Pork
Even the best home chef can't be pan-frying fillet of sole for 12: too much last-minute hassle, no way to nail the timing. That's where the one-pot meal comes in, the richly satisfying braise that actually gets better if you cook it three days in advance, so the flavors have time to develop. A braise takes minimal last-minute effort and can easily be scaled for a huge group or to leave a week's worth of the best leftovers you've ever had.
"And the thing I especially love about pork and beans," Keller tells me, "is all the ways you can repurpose it into other meals." He shows me exactly what he means, whipping up the single best plate of huevos rancheros I've ever eaten (and eat them I do, hunched over his kitchen's counter) and a killer bean soup that takes all of about 10 minutes to make (see mensjournal.com/leftovers for those recipes). But the pièce de résistance is the pork-and-beans proper, a classic Keller dish in which the simplest comfort food becomes a minor culinary miracle.
The Complete Recipe: Braised Pork Shoulder With Slow-Cooker Beans
Braising the Pork:
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 4- to 5-lb bone-in pork shoulder
• 4 tbsp canola oil
• 2 chopped carrots
• 1 chopped Spanish onion
• 1 chopped leek, white part only
• 8 cups veal or chicken stock
• 1 rosemary sprig
• 4 thyme sprigs
• 1 bay leaf
• 4 diced garlic cloves
• 1 tbsp black peppercorns
Sprinkle salt and ground pepper on the pork very generously on all sides (don't be shy; you can't really overdo it here).
Place a large cast-iron pot on the stove on high heat, and add the canola oil.
When the oil is shimmering, lower the pork shoulder into the pot gently. Sear on all sides until golden brown, rotating the pork by hand, setting it up on its edge when necessary – then remove the meat and set aside.
Pour out excess oil, then add chopped carrots, onion, and leek. Stir to coat with remaining oil in the bottom of the pot.
Lay the shoulder on top of the vegetables (fatty side up). Add the veal or chicken stock so that it comes only halfway up the side of the pork, then add rosemary sprig, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, garlic, and peppercorns to the liquid. Bring to a simmer.
Cover the pot, leaving lid slightly ajar, and place in a 250 oven. Braise the pork for 3.5 hours, or until the meat is tender enough to pull apart with two forks.
Remove the pork from the pot and let cool to room temperature. Strain braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, return the pork and liquid to the pot, and refrigerate overnight.
Once ready to finish the dish, debone the pork and then cut the meat into 2-inch-square chunks.
Part II: The Beans
The dilemma: Dried beans take forever to get tender, and you invariably overcook some, turning them mushy before others lose their hardness. Keller's solution: Rancho Gordo-brand beans, which are guaranteed fresh from ranchogordo.com, and a Crock-Pot or other slow cooker to help achieve even cooking.
• 1 pound Rancho Gordo-brand borlotti or cannellini beans
• 6 cups veal (or chicken) stock
• 6 cups water
• 2 thyme sprigs
• 1 bay leaf
• Kosher salt
• 1/2 leek
• 1/2 carrot
• 1/2 white onion
• 1 oz bacon
Wash and rinse beans – do not soak – then heat the stock and water in a pot and add to slow cooker.
Tie together thyme and bay leaf and put in liquid with 1 tsp salt, leek, carrot, onion, beans, and bacon. Slow-cook on high until tender, about 4 hours. Cool and store in their liquid.
Part III: The Finish
• 3/4 cup large-diced leeks, white parts only
• 1 cup large-diced carrots
• Canola oil, as needed
• 3 tbsp butter
• 1 tsp red-wine vinegar
Scrape fat off surface of pork-braising liquid. Discard.
Warm the meat and stock over low heat. Remove the pork. Pour the braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into another pot.
Return pork shoulder to its liquid. Simmer until needed.
In a large skillet, sauté leeks and carrots in oil until tender.
Strain the beans and put half in the skillet. Add one cup of the pork-braising liquid, the butter, and the red-wine vinegar to bind the sauce. Simmer 20 minutes, until the liquid thickens.
Set pieces of warmed pork in the beans and serve.