Chinotto is an Italian cola that is flavoured with bitter orange. It is fairly common or Canada (or at least it was in Vancouver when I was a kid) and I was wild about it as a teenager. Here, in New York, it is only sold in specialty Italian shops. Two six packs of the delicious stuff have been taking up limited shelf space in my kitchen and taunting my husband and I for months.
My husband: These have been here for months…I’m drinking one!
Me: NO! I’m waiting for the Japanese baby turnips to come into season so I can make Chinotto braised pork!
(repeat on a weekly basis)
Slow roasting pork shoulder in coca-cola is a pretty classic American dish. If you have never heard of this delicacy you might be sniffing and commenting about how repulsive and unhealthy that sounds, but if you have eaten it, you know that it is really good. Pork is good in a sweet sauce and cola has an interesting subtle herbal flavour that becomes more pronounced when you cook it down and let it caramelize. It’s ingenious actually. But you know what has an even more complex and interesting flavour? Chinotto.
I got it in my head that in addition to the cola and pork this braise should have fennel, leeks, rosemary, more orange peel and most importantly little baby turnips. It’s taken me a long time to come around to loving turnips, so it kind of cracks me up that I have been waiting with bated breath for the arrival of tunips this spring, but I have been.Then, after managing to not drink the Chinotto all winter and early spring, right when my CSA farmshare started and the beautiful little baby turnips arrived, my oven broke! I was so hell-bent on making this dish that I asked my dear friends Kerthy and Paul if I could cook it at their house. To be clear, this is not a dish that you can pop in the oven for half an hour. Cooking this dish at their house meant that I would spend all day at their house… and by house I mean New York City apartment where an extra person and their giant pork shoulder project take up a full quarter of all the space you have. They love me, so they said yes. I did tell the superintendent of my building that my oven was broken, but I expected it to take months and possibly an annoyed letter or two to my landlord to get it fixed, because that the true glamour of being a renter in Brooklyn. Much to my surprise, a man showed up to fix the oven the day after I mentioned it! Unheard of and excellent! I was able to invite Kerthy and Paul over to our house instead.
I’m so proud of this dish. It might be one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. The sauce is caramelized and meaty and made complex by the fennel, leeks, rosemary and orange peel. The meat is tender. The whole baby turnips braised in the pork fat are the best part. They retain their shape but burst open when you bite into them. Inside, they have the same silky soft consistency as the braised pork fat but are full of sweet turnip flavour.
Kerthy and Paul are amazing cooks. Many of my favourite recipes on this blog are from them (see Plum Ricotta Tart with Almonds, Wedding Salad with Blueberries, Star Fish Short Fizz, The Kerthy Fix Sidecar, Bananas Foster and Wilted Dandelion Salad with Cured Meat). They brought a beautiful bright spinach salad with strawberries and a bright light green pea soup and they were the perfect balance for my dark and rich braised pork. I don’t mean to brag, but the four of us make insanely good dinner parties and a pretty regular basis. This menu may have been my favourite though, and I will be posting all of their recipes over the next few days.
A PERFECT SPRING DINNER PARTY MENU
- Chinotto Braised Pork with Baby Turnips (see recipe below)
- potatoes, grits or polenta to serve with the meat
- Kerthy’s Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Bacon and Spring Onions
- Paul’s a Sweet Pea Soup
CHINOTTO BRAISED PORK WITH BABY TURNIPS
(makes enough for a dinner party of 4 and then a week of leftovers for 2)
- 8 pounds boneless pork shoulder
- Kosher salt
- 2 liters Chinotto
- 1 gallon chicken stock (preferably homemade)
- 8 small or 4 large leeks (about 4 cups chopped)
- 2 large or 6 small fennel bulbs
- 2 bunches Hakurei turnips
- the peel and strained juice of 1 orange*
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (one whole and 1 minced)
*Cut the peel off of the orange in several vertical slices. Lay the peel pith side up on a cutting board and use a very sharp knife to carefully remove and discard all of the white. Or, if you have a really good vegetable peeler, you can remove the orange peel without getting any of the white pith. Set the peel aside. Squeeze all of the juice out of the orange and strain it to remove the seeds.
- At least an hour before you begin cooking, season the pork generously with salt and pepper and set it in the fridge on a paper towel plate to dry.
- Drizzle oil onto the bottom of a large dutch oven to barely cover, then set the pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meat and sear on all sides until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside.
- Pour the Chinotto into the pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, scraping up any stuck bits of meat from the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is reduced to about 3 cups. This takes a while! You can prep all of the vegetables while it reduces.
- Halve the leeks and rinse them thoroughly to remove all the grit. Slice the white and light green part of the leeks into thin half circles. Save the dark green part of the leeks to make soup stock.
- Remove the stalks and fronds from the fennel and halve the bulbs (if small) or slice lengthwise (if large). Save those fronds and stalks for soup stock too.
- Remove the greens from the turnips. Scrub the turnips and halve any large ones. If the greens are in good shape you can save them to saute and eat with eggs or throw into stracciatella.
- Add the chicken stock to the reduced Chinotto, bring to a boil again, and cook until liquid reduces by about a quarter, about 10 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 450°. Place the meat into the liquid, along with the sliced leeks, fennel , scrubbed turnips, rosemary sprig and the orange peel. Cover and bake for about 2 hours, or until the meat falls apart easily. Lower the heat to 400°. Remove the lid from the dutch oven and bake for another hour.
- Remove the meat and vegetables from the pan and let rest 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile add the orange juice to the sauce and bring it to a hard simmer, and cook until it reduces to a light syrup (slightly thinner than maple syrup).
- Serve the meat topped with the sauce and garnished with minced rosemary.
MORE TURNIPS! MORE MEAT!