Ningbo Pork Shoulder

 

This recipe for cooking a pork shoulder is a regional variation of the Shanghai classic from the nearby port city of Ningbo. The cooking of this neighbor is similar to Shanghai cooking in many ways, in many dishes. Both cities dote on stir-fried tiny shrimp, oil-browned bean curd dishes, and sweetened foods. But the people of Ningbo like their independence as well. For example, they enjoy their vegetables mashed or shredded, such as pumpkin mashed with salted egg yolks, crab mixed with shredded turnips, and beef cooked with mashed potatoes. They color their fish soups with powdered red rice, and they take pride in their traditional pork shoulder, which is quite different from Shanghai‛s famed version.

The shoulder is simmered first in a salt solution on the stove top and then finished in hot oil. I was introduced to this recipe in a private Ningbo restaurant in Hong Kong, actually a club for immigrants from the city. The skin of the pork shoulder is not removed before cooking, but is scrubbed thoroughly, a process Ningbo cooks believe ensures crispness. Actually it works only partially, but whatever skin is crisped is delicious indeed. Serve the pork with Snow Pea Shoots Poached in Chicken Stock for a complete meal.

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Ingredients

  • 1 bone-in pork shoulder, 6 pounds, with skin and fat layer intact
  • 3 quarts water
  • 5 tablespoons salt
  • 3 quarts peanut oil

Method

Rinse the shoulder thoroughly under running cold water. Scrub the skin thoroughly to clean it.

Place the water in a very large pot. Add the salt and stir until it dissolves. Add the pork shoulder and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a gentle boil, cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly cracked, and cook the shoulder for 1½ hours, skimming off any residue as it rises to the surface. Turn the pork over, re-cover as before, and continue cooking for 1½ hours, again skimming any residue as it rises to the surface. After 3 hours, turn off the heat, cover the pot tightly, and let the pork cool to room temperature.

Remove the pork to a rack placed over a bowl and let drain for 1 hour. Discard the cooking water. Dry the pork shoulder thoroughly with paper towels. This initial simmering process seals, cooks, and tenderizes the meat.

Rinse and dry the pot. Heat it over high heat for 1 minute. Add the peanut oil and heat to 375°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Place the shoulder in a deep-fry basket and lower it into the hot oil. The oil temperature will immediately drop slightly. Deep-fry the pork for 15 minutes, then turn the pork over and deep-fry for another 15 minutes. Throughout this time maintain an oil temperature of 350°F. The shoulder is done when the skin is deep brown.

Turn off the heat and remove the basket with the shoulder to a large bowl. Allow the oil to drain off and the shoulder to rest for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a cutting board, slice, and serve on a heated platter.

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