Back in the day we used to confit whole pork shoulders in lard. We would cover them with a dry rub and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight so that the flavor could penetrate the meat. Then, we took the shoulders and submersed them in a warm bath of garlic, herb, and onion flavored lard and slowly cooked them till the meat would fall off the bones. When the shoulders were finished cooking, we pulled them out of the fat, let them drain on a rack, and when they were cool enough to handle we would remove the bones and impurities (huge fat pockets and veins) and then press the shoulders skin side up in a hotel pan. When the shoulders were chilled we had large blocks of pork shoulder confit which we then cut into cubes. These cubes were glazed with a sweet and sour rhubarb sauce and served with a papillote of rhubarb, onions and raisins and a side of grits. The dish was decadent, although perhaps a bit bulky.
Since that time we have worked with pork shoulders sporadically over the years. Sometimes we slow roast them so that the skin becomes a deep, mahogany crackling over the rich, melting meat, while other times we wrap the shoulder in foil and to slowly steam in the oven with various spices and fresh chiles so that we can shred the meat for tacos.
Recently we revisited the pork shoulder. We borrowed from our many experiences and have a current new favorite technique for preparing a pork shoulder. First, we remove the skin and the bones, keeping the skin in one piece. We break the shoulder down into individual muscle pieces and then cut t he larger muscles in half so we have uniform slabs of pork shoulder. We season these pieces with some curing mix and spices and then jaccard them, both to tenderize and to allow for the diffusion of seasonings and spices within the meat. Once the shoulder is jaccarded, we dust the inside of the skin and the meat with Activa RM and reassemble the muscles underneath the skin. We then vacuum seal the shoulder and let it rest overnight.
The next morning we put the shoulder in a 67 degree C water bath and cooked it for twenty hours. We have noticed that the jaccarding of meat has shaved some substantial time from our slow cooked meats, which is a good thing because shorter cooking times mean more intense, meaty flavors. When the pork was cooked, we pressed it flat overnight in the refrigerator. We were then able to slice slabs of the shoulder and crisp the skin as the meat itself gently warmed. We use a heavy pan over low to medium heat with just a touch of oil to make sure that skin doesn't stick and then let it slowly render, so the skin can develop that prized crackling texture while the meat gently warms in a moist environment.
With the shoulder under control, we looked to a few accompaniments. We paired the shoulder with delicate, sweet potato gnocchi and earthy black trumpet mushrooms, and then added a coffee-ketchup sauce to really pique the meat and highlight its juicy texture and inherent sweetness. The black trumpets were the most extravagant ingredient (and they were a gift) and the entire dish was a true indulgence.