A Tale of Tender Pork Butt, or, What Marcella Doesn’t Know…

I had to get up at screaming-ass-o’clock AM to slow cook this lovely pork shoulder with porcini mushrooms and white wine in order for it to be done by, you know, today.

Braised Pork with Polenta #italiandinner #marcellahazan

A photo posted by Lesa Sullivan-Abajian (@lesacooks) on


She is called the Godmother of Italian Cooking. She was a legend in her time. She was known to be the final word on all things concerning Italian cuisine, and her passion for the subject was equaled only by her very high standards and scrupulous attention to detail. When Marcella Hazan was last in town to publicize her book, Amacord, I was in charge of the food.

I was supposed to make her food and serve it to her.

No big deal.

That’s a huge lie, obviously. It was nervewracking. The worst part about it all was the pork.

I had to get up at screaming-ass-o’clock AM to slow cook this lovely pork shoulder with porcini mushrooms and white wine in order for it to be done by, you know, today. The kitchen was on the third floor. The cryovac-sealed shoulder was in the catering fridge on the first floor. I hauled it muscularly up and rammed my big toe into the edge of the kitchen door.

I screamed, I dropped the pork shoulder. On the floor, by the stairs, down it fell, and down it went, two flights, falling falling falling. Thud. THUD. T H U D like (I’m almost completely sure) a body that falls down the stairs. The cryovac pac burst open about halfway down.  I screamed some more.

I screamed:


Then, my husband appeared. Starkers. In front of the picture window, in a cold sweat, eyes wild. Panting, hard. Looking at me. Looking down the stairs. Looking at me. Crazy eyes.


We had just gotten married about a month before. I could see, at this very moment, he was having difficult thoughts about that. Really difficult, bloody thoughts.

Anyhoo. whatever he might have wanted to do, he politely ignored me and went back to bed.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why I do this recipe in a freakin’ pressure cooker now. So I don’t have to wake up at SCREAMING ASS O’CLOCK to slow cook the pork. Right?

Anyway. Here she be. Ingredients in bold are from ChefShop.com.

Stracotto (Pork Stew with Mushrooms and Juniper)

Based on a recipe by Marcella Hazan in Essentials of Italian Cooking-Knopf, 1998

  • 20 Essential Pantry Juniper Berries
  • 1-1/2 lbs pork shoulder cut in 2”cubes
  • Several pinches of Essential Pantry Trapani Salt and grinds of Tellicherry Pepper
  • 1/3 cup Essential Pantry Rice Bran Oil
  • ½ a small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp Katz Trio Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 3 Scalia Anchovy Fillets, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves, chopped or crumbled

Roughly pound the juniper berries in a mortar and pestle or wrap them in a towel and pound them with a meat mallet. Dry the pork very well. In a wide sauté skillet, heat the oil until it is shimmering. Salt and pepper the meat, and brown the meat on each side. Remove the pork and add the onion. Sauté the onion until it turns a light golden color. Add the wine and vinegar. With a wooden spoon, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the liquids simmer together for about a minute, then add remaining ingredients and the juniper berries. Season with a bit more salt and pepper, then cover and cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Alternately, prepare this recipe in a pressure cooker and cook on low pressure for approximately 45 minutes. When the meat is very tender, remove the meat from the liquid to a warmed platter. Reduce the liquid for several minutes until slightly thickened. Pour over meat and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.




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