The pork shoulder roast, like beef chuck, is a relatively inexpensive cut that's suited for a number of uses. It's more tender than chuck, so it can be treated as a straightforward roast for your weekend meal. It's also richly marbled and has a high level of natural gelatin, so it's also good for slow-cooking and pulled pork. The shoulder has a thick rind of fat and skin on one side, which can be kept or removed, depending on your cooking method.
If you're preparing the shoulder as a basic roast, you can remove the rind without worries. Leave a 1/4-inch of fat in place to baste the roast as it cooks and protect the meat from drying out in the heat of the oven. If you cut shallow slashes through the remaining fat in a crosshatch pattern, it will render more quickly and cook down to a thin, crisp, golden layer that many diners appreciate at the edge of their slice. Alternatively, you can leave the rind on and remove it at the table or turn it into crunchy, English-style crackling.
The skin is seldom eaten in North America, but in the U.K., many consider it the tastiest part of the roast. British websites bristle with recipes and advice columns providing sure-fire methods to get perfect "crackling," many of them directly contradictory. A few basic tips are agreed to by most cooks. First, the skin must be absolutely dry. Score it lightly with a knife, and then rub it well with sea salt. Start your roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes, and then turn it down to 325 F for the rest of your cooking time. The skin should be crisp, golden, crunchy and show fine bubbles in its surface.
Slow Roasting or Barbecue
If you're slow cooking your pork shoulder in the oven or on a barbecue, pulled-pork style, it's best to leave the rind in place. If you'll be using a spice rub or seasoning paste on your roast, score the rind so the flavors can be absorbed into the fat. The thick layer of fat and skin protects the roast from drying out during the extended cooking time. It's especially important in a kettle-style charcoal barbecue, with its dryer heat. Most instructions say to put the rind on top, where the fat will melt and baste the roast, but a few authorities argue for putting the rind on bottom where it protects from the direct heat.
If you ordinarily use a slow cooker to prepare your pork shoulder roast in pot-roast fashion, that changes the picture. In the confined space of a slow cooker, the air quickly becomes saturated with moisture and evaporation from the roast slows to a minimum. With no risk of drying out, there's no need for a rind of skin and fat to protect the flesh. Trim it away before cooking and either discard it or freeze the rind for another use.
A pork shoulder roast creates large quantities of intensely flavored drippings, which can form the basis of a tasty gravy or sauce. The roast's marbling means they'll have lots of fat, regardless of what you've done with the rind. To remove those, pour off the drippings into a tall, narrow heatproof glass or measuring cup. Ladle out as much fat as you can easily remove, and then set the cup in the coldest part of your refrigerator for up to 30 minutes. Most of the remaining fat will rise to the surface and congeal so you can easily remove it, leaving defatted drippings for your sauce.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- The Guardian: How to Make Perfect Pork Crackling
- Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are; Ed Levine, et al.