It’s time once again for a dish that’s suitable for a Christmas feast. Most people choose turkey because it ticks the boxes of being fairly easy to prepare (although making the insipid meat taste good takes more effort) and it’s large enough to feed a group. However, a hefty cut of pork works very well as an alternative, and if you use the low-and-slow cooking method, which takes about eight hours, you can start in the morning and it will be ready in plenty of time for your holiday dinner.
Spice-rubbed slow-cooked pork collar
It’s important to choose a cut of pork that has a sufficient amount of fat and connective tissue – sinews and tendons – layered through the meat, which become wonderfully soft and tender when slow-cooked, and help to prevent the roast from drying out. Don’t pick a lean cut such as tenderloin or loin. If you can’t find pork collar, look for boneless shoulder/butt. Skinless pork belly would also work: have the butcher roll it tightly and secure it with kitchen twine (you can do this yourself; look on YouTube for tutorials).
If you’re baking other items for your holiday dinner, you’ll need to plan carefully, because slow-cooking this roast means your oven is tied up for a long time. Fortunately, once the meat reaches the correct internal temperature, the roast will be fine at room temperature for a couple of hours while you use the oven to prepare any side dishes and desserts that need to be baked. You can also use this time to make the gravy. About 30 minutes before it’s time for dinner, put the meat back in the oven to warm through and brown the crust.
When I make roasts, I salt the meat by weight: I use 35 grams per kilo. When you measure out the salt, it looks like a frightfully large amount but the meat won’t be too salty, as long as you give it enough time to penetrate. If you are very salt sensitive, or salting it less than one day in advance, use 25 grams per kilo.
To check the internal temperature of the pork, use a probe-type meat thermometer that you can leave in the roast while it’s in the oven.
1 pork collar, about 2.5kg
Fine sea salt
1 onion, about 250 grams
50 grams peeled garlic cloves
10 grams peeled fresh ginger
5 grams chilli powder
5 grams smoked paprika
20 grams brown or white sugar
1½ tsp oregano
The finely grated zest of one orange
100ml fresh orange juice
15ml extra-virgin olive oil
About 15 grams panko
For the gravy:
The pan drippings
Plain (all-purpose) flour
About 750ml unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt the meat at least one day in advance. Take the meat from its packaging and blot off the excess moisture. Weigh the meat and multiply it by .035 – that is the amount of salt you will need. Sprinkle the salt over the entire surface of the meat and rub it in. Put the meat in a large bowl and refrigerate it.
Take the meat from the fridge about two hours before you want to cook it.
Roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger, then put them in a food processor and process to a rough paste. Add the chilli powder, paprika, sugar, oregano, orange zest and one teaspoon of salt and process to combine. With the motor running, add the orange juice and olive oil through the feed tube. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in the panko. The mixture should be a soft, spreadable paste; if it’s too loose, mix in more panko. Taste the mixture – it should be slightly spicy but well-balanced; if needed, add more salt, chilli powder and/or sugar.
Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius. Lightly oil a roasting pan that’s large enough to fit the meat. Lay the meat in the pan and spread some of the spice mixture over the sides and top of the roast. Insert the meat thermometer into the meat, positioning it so the tip is in the centre. Set the thermometer so it will go off at 90 degrees. Slide the roasting pan into the oven and cook for about four hours. Check it periodically, and if the spice mixture slides off, spread more on. After four hours, carefully turn the meat over (it’s easier if someone can help you). Spread more of the spice mixture on the new surface of the meat and continue to bake it at 100 degrees. When the internal temperature reaches 90 degrees, take the meat out of the oven. The oven can now be used for your other dishes.
Make the gravy. Carefully lift the meat from the roasting pan onto a cutting board. Pour off as much fat as possible from the pan juices (reserve the fat). Set the roasting pan over a burner and add about 250ml of the stock. Use a whisk to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour this mixture through a sieve into a measuring cup with the rest of the stock. Pour 50 grams of the reserved pork fat (from the pan juices) into a saucepan placed over a medium flame. Add 50 grams of flour and stir until the ingredients are cohesive; if fat floats to the surface, add a little more flour. Stir constantly for about a minute, then add the pan juices and chicken stock about 60ml at a time. Whisk to smooth out any lumps then add the stock in 60ml increments, whisking almost constantly. Season with salt and pepper, then turn off the flame. The gravy should be reheated just before serving the meat; add more chicken stock if needed to thin it out.
Thirty minutes before it’s time for dinner, put the meat back in the roasting pan. If needed, spread on more of the spice mixture (you’ll probably have some leftover). Put the pan in the oven and set it to 200 degrees. Cook until the spice mixture is crusty and browned in patches, then lower the heat to 180 degrees and continue to cook for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the meat in the oven while preparing any last-minute dishes. Carve the meat and serve with side dishes and the gravy.