Grilled Pork Confit

Makes 6 to 8 Servings
Time: 3 days, largely unattended

Few dishes elicit quite the same animal response as this one. When I cooked it with Suzanne, friends and onlookers brandished forks like weapons and resolved to replicate it for wives, girlfriends, and/or families immediately.

And as long as you have space and time, it's not a particularly difficult dish to prepare. Just make sure you have a container large enough to brine a pork shoulder in, enough room in the fridge to store it while it's curing, and enough fat to submerge it in. None of these are insurmountable problems; you just need to do a bit of planning to make it happen. (Or, you could cut the recipe in half.) If you don't have a grill, don't let that stop you: Just sear the meat in a cast-iron pan with a few tablespoons of the fat left over from making the confit.

This is great served with Knepfla and Sauteed Cabbage.

1/4 cup juniper berries
1/4 cup allspice berries
1/2 cup fennel seed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup salt
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 bulb fennel, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1/4 bunch fresh thyme
1/4 bunch fresh parsley
3 cloves
2 bay leaves
2 dried chiles
Half a boneless pork shoulder, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
2 to 3 quarts rendered duck or pork fat (see sidebar)
Mustard Butter (page 245)

1. Lightly crush the juniper, allspice, and fennel in a mortar and pestle or with the back of a heavy pan (if you use a spice grinder, be sure to keep it coarse). Dissolve the sugar and salt in 2 cups hot water in a stockpot or plastic container large enough to accommodate the pork shoulder (and make a space in your refrigerator large enough to fit the stockpot). Add 2 cups cool water, and then stir in the onion, fennel, carrot, thyme, parsley, cloves, bay leaves, and chiles. Add the pork shoulder and enough water to cover the meat. Brine the pork in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

2. Remove the pork from the brine, pat it dry and clean with paper towels, and let it sit while you heat the fat; discard the brine. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Warm the fat gently in a large deep pan (if you used a stockpot for brining, that would work) over low to medium heat until it liquefies. Sub-merge the brined pork shoulder in the fat and transfer the pan to the oven. Cook 4 to 5 hours, until very tender (a paring knife inserted in the center of the meat should meet little resistance).

3. Cool the pork in the fat for 1 hour. (At this point you could transfer the shoulder, submerged in fat, to the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Before you grill the shoulder, transfer the pan from the fridge to a 250°F oven for 1 hour or so to re-liquefy the fat, then proceed.) Remove the shoulder from the fat and transfer it to a cutting board (strain the fat and refrigerate or freeze until the next time you make confit).

4. Start your grill; the fire should be moderately hot (you should be able to hold your hand over the hottest part for 4 or 5 seconds) and the grill rack about 4 inches from the heat source.

5. Slice the pork into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick slabs across the grain of the meat (save the scraps to make great sandwiches or to sauté with eggs). Taste a little piece of the pork to make sure it is seasoned correctly. If not, add some salt and pepper. Brush the slabs with a little melted fat or olive oil and grill for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side (turning them 90 degrees after a couple of minutes if you want to serve them with crosshatched grill marks). Turn the pork over and finish cooking for 1 minute more on the other side. You should have a really crisp, deep-golden crust. Smear each piece of grilled pork with a generous tablespoon of Mustard Butter and serve immediately.