Rendered Pork Butt: a Porcine Delight
August 1, 2011
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Although the name suggests that it comes from the rear of the pig pork butt is actually cut from the shoulder of the animal. The name “butt” comes from “Boston butt” and refers to the casks in which pork shoulder was packed for shipment during colonial times when it was traditionally the food of those who could not afford to eat “high on the hog” where the more desirable loin and ribs are found. Even today, pork butt tends to be considered a lesser cut of meat to be passed over in favor of pork loin. But true connoisseurs of the pig know better. Because of its higher fat content, pork butt is ideal for barbeque but today the topic is rendered pork butt. The cooking process consists of chopping or grinding the meat then boiling it seasoning until the fat renders out and water evaporates. In Mexico salt and lime this turns chunks of pork into carnitas, in France those chunks cook in copious amounts of salt to become rillettes, and in Québec ground pork butt is transformed by onions and spices into cretons. The only problem with those traditional preparations is that the byproduct, lard, is too flavored or salty to use for anything else. I take a different approach by rendering the meat and fat in unseasoned water, separate out the lard, and then prepare the final product by itself. What little is lost in authenticity is more than compensated for by versatility.
- 2 or 3 pounds boneless pork butt
- 2 quarts cold water, more or less as needed
Cut the pork into 1- to 2-inch cubes. Put into a large enameled Dutch oven or other heavy pot. Cover with water by ½ inch. Bring to a boil, skim off any scum that forms, turn the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered until the water is nearly evaporated.
Place a colander over a large bowl and pour the contents of the Dutch oven into it. Allow the meat to drain for a few minutes then pick out any pieces of fat and return them to the pot along with the liquid. Set the meat aside to cool a bit then put into suitable containers until ready to use.
Return to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the fat has mostly stopped bubbling. Filter the lard through a layer of cheesecloth or, as I do a reusable metal coffee filter, into a bowl then transfer to a suitable container for storage in the refrigerator. Don’t waste the bits left in the filter—eat them as a reward for your hard work or add them to the meat.