Preserving Pork at Home

| 2/19/2014 9:36:00 AM

Fresh pork ham hocksPork confit, also called potted pork, is a frugal and tasty way to preserve meat. Like it’s cousin, duck confit, potted pork is made by lightly curing, then gently “poaching” pork meat in it’s own fat. Once cooked, the meat is then buried it in the fat, effectively keeping bacteria and air away from the meat, there by preserving it. It keeps quite well in a nice cold cellar, or in the back of your fridge, all winter long.You barely need a recipe. While pork shoulder is often used, I went the economical route and used my locally raised fresh ham hocks. The hocks have lots of fat and meat, which are the two main requirements, and the bones and connective tissue give the confit great flavor and texture. After a brief curing with salt and flavorings overnight, the pork is slowly cooked in fat.  The seasonings are classic stock flavors like onions, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves, but feel free to improvise your own combination.

Once cooked and totally submerged in fat, pork confit is ready for cold storage for up to 6 months. The meat can be pulled from the fat as needed, always recovering any remaining meat with fat. Reheat the pieces in a very hot oven, then pull the pork from the bone. Use the meat in soups and salads, finely chopped and mixed with a little fat for an unctuous rillettes spread or layered into an elegant Pork Confit Parmentier with mashed potatoes and greens. The fat also makes fantastic fried potatoes or a hot salad dressing with a little vinegar and mustard.

Pork Confit Recipe

Home rendered lard

5 pounds fresh ham hocks
black peppercorns
5 cloves garlic
bunch fresh thyme
small bunch parsley
1 large onion or 1 cup pearl onions
10 cloves
3 large bay leaves
2 quarts fresh pork lard, duck fat or olive oil

Generously season the ham hocks with salt and freshly ground pepper, much more than you would for regular cooking. Don’t worry, you will rinse them off before cooking. Finely chop the garlic and onion, roughly chop the parsley, strip the thyme leaves off the stems and crumble the bay leaves. Add all the aromatics and herbs to the hocks along with the cloves. Toss the hocks to coat and store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. I like to use a 2 gallon ziplock bag so I can easily flip the contents to redistribute the resulting brining liquid.

Pork hocks submerged in lard

After a day, remove the hocks and rinse off the cure, herbs and spices. Don’t worry if a few bits remain attached to the meat. If using lard or duck fat, melt it. Arrange your hocks in a heavy pot. Pour enough fat to cover the hocks completely by at least 1 inch of fat. Place in a 180 degree oven (or as low as it will go if it can’t reach that) and bake covered for 10 to 12 hours. I baked mine overnight. (The delicious smell made for interesting dreams.)

Transfer your hocks to a storage container and completely submerge them in fat, with at least an inch over the top. Chill completely and store in the refrigerator. Use as needed for up to 6 months. Mine didn’t last that long!

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