A few weeks ago, I wanted to make this recipe for pork stew with butternut squash and fennel. Butternut squash was one of the success stories of last year's garden and I still have a few of them lounging around in my laundry room. I mostly use the squash in soups and muffins, but I was yearning for a change (must be the coming spring). Plus, I've been buying a lot of fennel lately, to put into salads, so this stew seemed quite the thing to make.
When I buy pork shoulder (a.k.a. Boston butt or picnic shoulder), it's usually to make pulled pork. So the fact that this cut comes with the skin still intact isn't a problem - the skin slips off easily after the pork is slow-cooked for hours and hours. For this stew, though, the skin needs to be removed and the meat cut into pieces prior to cooking. It's been a while since I last made the stew and I forgot how tricky it could be to trim the meat...in this case it was even trickier because my pork shoulder contained the actual shoulder joint - not so easy to remove, that. And, I couldn't decide whether it was better to remove the skin and then cut out the bone, or to remove the bone and then cut off the skin. (For the record: remove the skin first. Hopefully I'll remember that, next time).
The shoulder is an (relative to pork loin) inexpensive cut of meat - I paid $1.49 per pound; sometimes it goes on sale for just $0.99/lb. After trimming off the skin and fat, and cutting out the bone, I was looking at a sizeable pile of stuff that was NOT going into my stew. Ever curious, I got out my trusty kitchen scale. The total weight of the roast was 5.34 lb. Of that, the skin and trimmed-off fat weighed almost a pound, and the bone itself weighed 1 lb. Sooo the remaining ~3lb of pork meat for the stew actually cost $7.96 (total cost for a 5.34-lb roast) / 3 lb of stew meat = $2.65/lb.
What to do??!? The bone was a no-brainer: it went into the freezer to be added to a stock someday. The skin and fat, well, I tried to render the lard out of the pork skin like I render the fat out of duck skin: slice the skin into strips and place it in a heavy pan with a little water, a little vermouth, and a couple of bay leaves. Heat over low heat until it simmers and cook for a couple of hours until the fat is rendered and the skin is crispy and browned. It sort of worked: I was expecting to produce something like pork rinds, but the pig skin never really got all that crispy (unlike the duck skin). I did get about a half-cup of rendered pork fat, which I stored in the fridge and used to fry some potatoes later in the week.
A bit of extra effort, but I got the most out of that little shoulder. Oh, and the stew itself was delicious...but after the fact, I realized that this recipe is not the one that I'd made before, after all. I dimly recall that the other recipe directst you to saute the fennel with the onions; it cooks so long in the stew that it practically melts away. If I can find that recipe again, I'll post it here. In the meanwhile, you can enjoy this one.