By Bob Benenson
According to the Chinese zodiac, we have just entered the Year of the Pig. So I feel kind of honored to be able to celebrate with a roasted pork shoulder from a Meishan, a heritage breed from China that—according to The Livestock Conservancy—“is one of the oldest, if not the oldest domesticated breed of pigs in the world.”
As luck would have it, a friend is helping his in-laws develop Terra Vitae Farms, their three-year-old pasture-raised, grass-fed livestock operation in Woodstock. Marketing mentors tell start-up businesses that it is important for them to differentiate from their competition, and Terra Vitae has gone all in by raising Meishans, a breed that first arrived in the U.S. 30 years ago, and is defined by The Livestock Conservancy as so rare as to be “critically endangered.”
The reason Terra Vitae is so vested in Meishans is that their meat is regarded by experts as one of the most sumptuous types of pork. According to the American Meishan Breeders Association, “Meishan meat is an incomparable combination of tenderness, succulence and flavor… an intensely micro-marbled red meat pork.”
And now, I can vouch for this. After my friend dropped off a cut of frozen Meishan pork, I immediately geared up for a slow roast fest. I roasted the pork shoulder the next day, and yes… wow… this meat is amazing. I’ve had pork from several breeds of heritage hogs, and the Meishan is easily one of the best.
Now, I know it might be hard to get your mitts on a Meishan right now, but the following very easy recipe will make any pork roast taste like a feast.
This recipe is a version of pernil, a popular Puerto Rican recipe. Pernil is often made with a spice paste, but this is a simpler version using a spice rub called sazon. Since it’s not a blend you commonly find in a store, you can easily make it at home from equal amounts of salt, black pepper, dried oregano, garlic powder, ground cumin, ground coriander and paprika (a recipe I borrowed from Mark Bittman’s How to Grill Everything cookbook).
I recommend you mix a tablespoon of each. This will be more than you need for one pork roast, so store the remainder in a jar. You’ll want to use it again.
Pernil Pork Roast
1 pork shoulder (2.25 lb roast serves approximately 5-6)
Sazon seasoning to amply cover (approximately 2 T)
Preheat oven to 250℉ (for low and slow cooking)
Place seasoned roast in a pan and place in the oven. Check with a meat thermometer after an hour, and then check every subsequent half-hour until the internal temperature reaches 145℉. Do not overcook! Turn on the broiler and cook for about two more minutes on each side to provide a delicious char and grilled color.
Let sit for around 15 minutes to allow the juices to settle, then slice and serve. Enjoy with a medley of roasted asparagus, onion and cremini mushrooms for a special winter meal.
Photo Credit: Bob Benenson
Bob Benenson is communications manager for FamilyFarmed, a Chicago nonprofit that helps farmers and food producers succeed by connecting them with buyers, sellers, investors and consumers. Bob is a resident foodie, accomplished photographer and former longtime political journalist.