candy pork

What’s in a cooking repertoire? Is it basics, like how to make rice and a go-to method for roasting chicken? Is it your family’s classics, like a plum cake or the roast a cousin makes on Christmas Eve? Is it a collection of durable, flexible recipes that might be the last you ever need? I’ve been thinking about this since getting Jessica Battiliana’s first cookbook, Repertoire, this spring. I loved the concept immediately: the recipes she relies on most — not demanding but rewarding; not fancy, but special. There are recipes for parmesan chicken cutlets, meatballs, and a simplified eggplant parmesan; chicken tortilla soup, pretzel rolls, and corn fritters. There’s a recipe for the thing that most quickly went into my repertoire — a negroni (although I made it boulevardier-style) and potato chips (spoiler: they’re from a bag) — and birthday cakes too. But it was this candy pork that I couldn’t forget about, and I’m so glad I chose it, well, second.

shallotsshallots, ginger, garlic, hot pepperbrown sugar to meltthe caramel

[I wondered what my cooking repertoire would look like but realized with 1200 recipes in the archives and 105 in each of my cookbooks, it’s probably a little late for that, as I could never choose, although I did my best here.]

Battilana is a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle but also works on cookbooks, such as the incredible Vietnamese Home Cooking book (we made the pho here) from Charles Phan. From Phan, she learned about Vietnamese-style caramel sauces laced with Thai chilies, ginger, garlic, and shallots. At his restaurant, The Slanted Door, it’s applied to clay-pot chicken but in Repertoire it’s used to braise chunks of pork shoulder and it’s one of the best things I’ve made this year. [Her kids call it candy pork because kids know: nobody can resist candy.]

browned pork chunks
shallots, garlic, ginger, yess
ready to braise
what we ate with it

There are so many things I like about it: a more salty-than-sweet sauce that’s glossy and dark, the short ingredient list that’s still wildly complex with flavor, the fact that it cooks so much faster than a full pork shoulder, and you can use the braising time to have fun with sides, like rice, and vegetables, or, I don’t know, snack on a negroni and potato chips, right? It was kid-friendly and the leftovers were perfect, which means it’s real life friendly too. And with a name like candy pork, how could you not want to make on the rainy, cold pre-Halloween weekend we have ahead?

candy pork

Some news! Speaking of kid-friendly… This month I start as columnist for Bon Appetít, with a focus on cooking for kids without descending into a steady diet of halved grapes and chicken nuggets (although I, in fact, adore chicken nuggets). It’s called “Picky Eaters Club” and the first column is in the November issue, on newsstands now, and online right here. The recipe is for a hearty dinner strata with heaps of mushrooms, kale, and leeks bound with cubes of sourdough (I prefer whole wheat, if you can find it), eggs, and cheese, glorious cheese (which seals the deal) and I hope you love it as much as we do.


One year ago: Sausage and Potato Roast with Arugula and Bakery-Style Butter Cookies
Two years ago: Russian Honey Cake and Pumpkin Bread
Three years ago: Cannoli Pound Cake and The Broccoli Roast
Four years ago: Better Chocolate Babka and Fall-Toush Salad
Five years ago: Purple Plum Torte and Lazy Pizza Dough + Favorite Margherita Pizza
Six years ago: (Quick) Chicken Noodle Soup and Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies
Seven years ago: Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crumble
Eight years ago: Roasted Eggplant Soup and Apple and Cheddar Scones
Nine years ago: Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp and Jalapeno Cheddar Scones
Ten years ago: Beef, Leek and Barley Soup and My Family’s Noodle Kugel
Eleven years ago: Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette and Pumpkin Bread Pudding
[New!] Twelve years ago: Winter Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Crispy Tofu Pad Thai
1.5 Years Ago: Granola Bark
2.5 Years Ago: Carrot Tahini Muffins
3.5 Years Ago: Carrot Graham Layer Cake, Wild Mushroom Pate, and Why You Should Always Toast Your Nuts
4.5 Years Ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

Candy Pork

Don’t be intimidated by the word caramel — Battilana’s instructions are perfect, and it’s a cinch.
  • 8 ounces palm sugar, finely chopped, or 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons canola or another neutral oil
  • 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch-by-3-inch chunks
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1 (2-inch-by-1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 to 3 Thai chilies (or 1 serrano), stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 3 cups coconut water
Put the palm or brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar melts, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the sugar doesn’t scorch. When the sugar is smooth and completely melted, remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the fish sauce. The mixture may seize; if it does, return it to low heat and continue stirring until smooth.

Heat your oven to 300°F.

In a large Dutch oven over high heat — I use this pot for this, and most braises, although it exists at many lower price points — heat the canola oil. Season the pork pieces on all sides with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, add some of the pieces of pork and sear until well browned on all sides, estimated at 8 minutes, but this part took me muh longer. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pork.

When all the pork has been browned, reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are softened, about 2 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic, and chilies and cook 1 minute more.

Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pot and add the caramel sauce and coconut water. The pieces of meat should poke up above the level of the liquid; if they’re completely submerged, transfer the meat and liquid to a different pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.

After 15 minutes of cooking, peek under the lid to check that the liquid is simmering gently. If it’s bubbling very vigorously, reduce the oven temperature to 275°F for the remaining cooking time. Cook the pork with the lid back on for 70 minutes—the meat should be tender but not falling apart. Uncover the pot and continue cooking for 30 minutes more, until the exposed bits of pork are caramelized and the meat is tender that a chunk can easily be pulled back with a fork, as you hope it will on your plate. Remove from the oven and serve with rice.

[We also had some yellow wax beans (trimmed, cooked for 2 minutes, plunged in ice water, then drained), carrots (I cut them with a julienne peeler and doused them with a a couple glugs of rice vinegar, an equal amount of water, plus sugar and salt to taste and let them sit in the fridge and lightly pickle until the pork was done and up to two days, then drizzled it with a little toasted sesame oil before eating) and I put extra sliced scallions and chiles on the side so the adults who like them could add them to their plates to taste.]


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