We’re lucky enough to have fresh, local milk delivered to our home every Thursday morning. This is a luxury I grew up with, and is more difficult to find nowadays than it should be. Having a milkbox on our porch, filled with dairy and egg goodies first thing in the morning feels so special. Like I’ve left out a stocking, and udder-santa has filled it because I’ve been good.
Except for the times that I forget to update my milk order to reflect what I already have languishing in my fridge. Then you’ll hear me get up, trot to the front door, and yell the F-word into the misty morning dew, as my neighbors draw back their curtains, call me a hoodlum, and instruct their college-aged children to toilet paper my house.
What the hell am I supposed to do with, now, FOUR half gallons of milk??
If you think it’s weird that a lady such as myself uses the F-word with abandon, you should ask my sister about the time she went to Sprouts with my tiny, librarian mom, and my mom loudly said “motherf*cker” because she couldn’t get two carts apart. And how a middle-aged man looked at my sister and said “nice mom you’ve got there.” It’s genetic. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and a love for dirty words.
Also, one time she told me that my sister had “cockblocked” her from a buffet line. I have no idea.
Today was one of those days where I ended up with more milk than I was comfortable storing in my fridge. I keep my fridge and pantry immaculate, cleaning them every single week before I put new groceries in them. But I’m about two weeks behind, and it’s making me want to slit my wrists. Milk on the non-milk shelves? Tupperware experiments? The horror. It’s out of control, and my freezers are full. I can never go to a store again.
As I wrung my hands and paced trails into the fur-bedecked wood floors in our kitchen, I tried to think of what I was going to do with all this milk. (No milk will ever be our milk).
Somewhere in the dusty recesses of my brain, I recalled hearing about various meat items being poached in milk. Soaked in milk? Braised in milk? I don’t know. Milk and meat was as far as I got into my dusty recesses before I got distracted by some other shiny thought. Probably about beating up a burglar and getting to have a witty, hair-swingy press conference about my bravery and fighting talent. Followed by an invitation to be on the Daily Show. That’s how most of my daydreams end.
I Googled “pork cooked in milk,” because I had a defrosted half-butt of pork that was slated to be cooked. Turns out, pork and milk are A Thing! An Italian Thing! Also a Mexican Thing if you want carnitas, but I wasn’t really feeling like cooking tortillas tonight. So, Italian FTW.
What I didn’t know when I started was that pork cooked in milk looks completely repulsive while it’s cooking. I’m not even going to insult you with gory analogies, but suffice it to say, it doesn’t seem like a food that you would want to eat. Smells good, though, which helps immeasurably. Some delicious things smell like rancidity embodied, and it makes it difficult to want to try them. Sauerkraut comes to mind. This is not like that. Which is to say that it smells delicious the whole time it’s cooking. Every time I checked on it, I was shocked that it looked so inedible.
I soldiered on.
Here’s the recipe:
-One 2 lb boston butt (or similarly fatty cut of pork), tied to hold its shape
-.5 gallon of 2% milk (or a bit more–I used .75)
-3 bay leaves
-.75 t rubbed sage
-.5 t rosemary (I used dried herbs because that’s what I had on hand)
-3 cloves garlic, smashed
-2 T white vinegar (or lemon juice or white wine)
-salt and freshly cracked pepper
-2 T neutral-flavored oil (I used grapeseed)
–Season the pork liberally with salt and pepper
–In a large skillet, heat the oil until almost smoking, then sear the pork until quite brown on all sides
–Splash in your acid and reduce for about 15 seconds
–Add the sage, rosemary, and garlic and saute for a moment
–Add the milk and bring to a simmer
–Transfer all of it to a crock pot and set on high for four hours, occasionally turning the pork
–When the pork is very tender, pull it out and transfer all of the leftover liquid and curds into a large sauce pot (removing and discarding the bay leaves)
–Reduce the milk, stirring frequently to keep the curds from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
–When about 1 C of liquid is left, whisk it or blend it well, then strain it through a fine-mesh strainer. Taste for salt and pepper.
–Shred the pork, season with additional salt and pepper, and drizzle with the liquid.
WHOA. Have you ever heard that trick where people stick a can of condensed milk in a pot with some water and cook it until it turns into dulce de leche (basically caramel)? This was kind of the same deal, except savory. A savory caramel-like sauce that got smeared over shredded, ridiculously tender pork. Pork that you could almost spoon into your mouth, with its savory caramel top hat and tails.
You know what would be better? No, I don’t either. Spaetzle, for sure. That’s what I ended up serving it with, Italy be damned. It was the right choice. I guess I’ll just call it “European milk-braised pork” and see who yells at me first. There wasn’t any soy sauce, maize, or peanut in it, so I feel like it’s not a direct violation of continental culinary law to call it so.
I brought some to my mother at the library, because I wanted SOMEONE to taste it. Someone besides Chris, who is maritally obligated to “like button” anything I put on a plate. Someone besides the baby, who refuses to eat any and all meat, but will eat tomatoes directly off of our tomato plant if I’m not watching him to scream “NO BAD BABY! THAT’S MOMMY’S TOMATO PLANT WITH MOMMY TOMATOES ON IT!!” Kidding. I totally encourage him to eat the tomatoes, because it’s so cute and good for his tiny prostate, even if I am tired of washing tomato brains off of onesies.
*Note: I wrote most of this months ago, but occasionally I get started on things and then get distracted by “NO BAD BABY! THAT’S MOMMY’S FLOUR CONTAINER WITH MOMMY FLOUR IN IT!!! NO FLOOR DUMP! BAD FLOOR DUMP!!!” So it’s not exactly current, and I can’t find any pictures of it, but was a damned good recipe, and you should make it anyway. Plus, it’s nigh on braising season. Braise on, my brother.