Recipe: Herbed Pork Roast

Today on the Food Network, Chef Elizabeth Donald. Shush. Let me have my delusions of adequacy.

By request, the herbed pork roast recipe I experimented with on Sunday. I've tried to do pork roasts many times, and always ended up drying them out unless I used the crock pot and drowned them in liquid.

Now, that works perfectly fine if you're aiming for pulled pork. That's easy: slice an onion into rings and put them in the crock. Put the roast on top of the rings, and insert a half-dozen whole cloves into the flesh (more or less to taste). Toss more sliced onions on top if you want. Pour in two or three cups of water. Set the crock pot to cook on low 8-12 hours - the longer the better. When it's done, pull it out (as best you can; it will fall apart if you did it right) and discard the water, onions and cloves. Shred the meat like crazy and dump it back in the crock pot with another onion, diced. Pour in a full bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (I strongly recommend Corky's of Memphis) and let it cook on low another half hour to one hour. Voila.

Here's how I finally managed an herbed roast without turning it into a bouncy ball:

Set the oven temperature at 300 degrees. Trim fat off the roast if you wish, though I prefer to keep a healthy layer of fat to season the meat as it cooks and render crackling skin.

Season the roast all over with your preferred rub. My standard go-to is 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt flakes, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, a dash of white pepper, and paprika, rosemary, tarragon and coriander to taste. But I like it salty. For this round, I added a dash of a seasoning blend from a little tourist-trap restaurant in Nowhere, Tennessee where I had the best pork chops of my life. My supply is getting low; I really need to make sure to stop by there the next time I swing through middle Tennessee.

You can use whatever seasoning rub you like - jerk seasoning for spicy, or add brown sugar for a sweeter taste. A Montreal rub would include paprika, black pepper, kosher salt, garlic and onion powder, coriander, dill and crushed red pepper flakes. Emeril's Essence Creole seasoning goes like this: 2 1/2 tbsp. paprika, 2 tbsp. salt, 2 tbsp. garlic powder, and one tbsp. each pepper, onion powder, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper. (I omit the last from my Emeril seasoning because I'm a spice wuss.) This makes about 2/3 cup of the mix, enough for several recipes - it's great on beef.

Be sure to measure your seasoning out into a small bowl and mix it up, then begin the rub on all sides of the roast. Discard any leftover seasoning if your hands have touched both it and the meat.

Place the roast in a large roasting pan, fat side up. Use a roaster liner if you cannot trust the coating at the bottom of the pan - you want to be able to use the drippings. (My roaster has decided to shed its lining, so we bought a roaster liner while we wait to magically save up enough for a good stainless steel roaster.) Use a roaster rack to keep the roast up out of the drippings. You can also use a rack in a lasagna pan, but make sure whatever you use has high sides to hold those drippings.

Pour enough chicken broth in the bottom of the pan to cover the entire bottom at about half an inch deep. Put it in the oven uncovered.

Plan on 40 minutes per pound to start, but anticipate much longer. You’re aiming for a minimum of 160 degrees internal temperature, up to 180. I cooked a 7.5-pound roast for nine hours, and it could have gone longer. Check every 30 minutes, and if the liquid in the bottom evaporates, add more chicken broth, enough so that it goes back up the sides of the pan. You want all the liquid you can get, and you don't want your drippings to burn on the bottom. Your house will smell like yummy seasoned pork all afternoon. 

When the roast passes 160 degrees, keep roasting until it seems nicely loose and tender. This is more a matter of feel than degrees. When it feels softened and tender, remove the roast from the pan and put it in a covered container to rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the drippings into a fat separator and let the fat rise to the top. Scrape browned bits into the drippings. If some of it is baked on, pour a cup of water into the pan and deglaze it - you want all that nice browned stuff at the bottom in your gravy.

Melt 4 tbsp. butter in a saucepan (or you can use fat from the drippings, if you wish). Mix in 4 tbsp. Wondra flour a bit at a time, whisking constantly. You can reduce or increase the amount of butter, but then be sure to reduce or increase the Wondra as well. (I always use Wondra for sauces and gravy; you can use all-purpose flour if you must, but Wondra is nicely fine and makes a smoother sauce.)

Add in the drippings and the deglazing liquid, measuring all the way. You want a total of 3 cups of liquid going into the gravy. If you don’t have that much juice, add chicken broth for the rest. Taste as you go - if you used a lot of salt on the roast, your sauce might come out salty. In that case, use water instead of chicken broth to get your 3 cups. Simmer until it thickens. Add a half-cup of milk if you like a creamier gravy.

If you don’t have a nice, crispy crust, you can sear it at this point: Raise the oven temp to 475 degrees. Put the roast in a clean pan or on a baking sheet and put in the hot oven for 13 to 17 minutes. The outside should turn nice and brown and the fat crunchy. I have found this happens anyway if you let it slow-roast long enough - I skipped this step and still had wonderfully crispy layers on top.

Carve and enjoy! We did.

Pictured in a Pampered Chef roaster; this sucker did not fit before it was cooked, just sat in it to rest. If you have a smaller roast and a rack to keep it up off the bottom, by all means, use a PC roaster! They're awesome.