I told my husband that I was making pork sugo for dinner. “What is that? Do I know what that is?” And then, throughout the afternoon, as our house filled with the wonderful smell of a late-autumn braise: “What is this called again? Have we had this before?” And THEN, while finishing the leftovers from Sunday on Tuesday and asking when (this week) we would be eating more: “Remind me what this is called so I can tell C at work. She wants to know how to make it.” Evidently, the fact that I put braised pork into a blender (my fancy new Blendtec!) and transformed it into a magical sauce was a hot topic of discussion at my husband’s job site.
So let’s talk about sugo. Maybe not a memorable name, but oh, what a memorable dish. Differing only slightly from ragout or Bolognese, sugo is a meat sauce comprised of braised vegetables and meat. I recently had a lamb sugo with smoked pasta that was very nice indeed. I chose to make my own version with pork, which is a little more accessible and a lot more affordable in my area in November. I think you would have good results with lamb, beef or pork. I made Bolognese last winter with ground beef and it was wonderful, so rich and comforting and flavorful, but I remember the process as being tedious. I was worried throughout that I was doing something wrong. Silly, I know, and I am in no way dissuading you from making Bolognese (you should try Marcella Hazan’s recipe), but… If you feel that way, too, may I offer sugo as an alternative. Your oven does all the work. I am a huge fan of braising meat; it’s a technique that is mostly hands-off, works with the less expensive cuts of meat I am more likely to buy and produces impressive, tasty results with very little likelihood of failure. This pork sugo is no exception. Using staple vegetables, readily available pork shoulder and a little bit of (cheap) red wine, I created a dish that tastes like I stirred a pot of thirty ingredients for sixteen straight hours.
What does one do with pork sugo? Our first meal was inspired by an Ethan Stowell recipe in which al dente orecchiette is baked with liberal scoops of sugo and a topping of bubbling, browned Parmesan. “Casserole” doesn’t seem like a fancy enough word to describe the mind-bending wonder we ate for dinner, then lunch, then dinner again. We tried “Porky Joes” (sorry, but it’s too funny not to share), which were potato rolls with reheated sugo broiled patty melt-style with Provolone cheese. Like a Sloppy Joe. Get it? If you’re a fan of pulled pork, Sloppy Joes or even Italian beef, this is something you must try; it was every bit as satisfying as a good hot sandwich should be. Moving right along, pork sugo was served with orca beans that had been cooked with rosemary and garlic. This was my favorite meal of the three, perhaps because it reminded me of my favorite ham and bean stew. You may be getting the impression that this recipe feeds a crew, and you are right; expect enough sauce for several meals, five so far for the two of us and we have some left to go. The recipe could be cut in half, though I love having leftovers. I did put some in the freezer to use later this winter.
If you like any of the dishes I mentioned above– Bolognese, Sloppy Joes, pulled pork, chili– and have been looking for something new to try, sugo is it. Endlessly versatile, fairly inexpensive, simple to prepare and so, so delicious, pork sugo should be part of your next meal plan. I bet it will become a favorite and a staple as quickly as it has at our house.
- 3 1/4 lb. pork shoulder roast, trimmed and cut into 1″ cubes
- salt & pepper
- 3 T. olive oil
- 5 carrots, cut into 1/4″ dice
- 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/4″ dice
- half of a large onion, cut into 1/4″ dice
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- 1 c. crushed tomatoes with their juice
- 1 1/2 c. red wine (I used an inexpensive Pinot Noir)
- 2-4 large sprigs of fresh thyme, left whole
- 5 c. chicken stock
- 3 T. chopped fresh oregano
- 3 T. chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Start by trimming and cutting the pork, leaving some fat but taking off the larger pieces as you go. As you cut, you can also remove any connective tissue that may be tough. Season liberally with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or similar large pot, heat 1 1/2 T. olive oil over high heat. Add half the pork and allow to brown without stirring; you want a nice sear and color. The pork will spit, but try not to cover, or at least cover completely, since you run the risk of steaming the meat. After 5-7 mins., flip the pork to brown the other side. When the pork is nicely browned, remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon; add the remaining olive oil to the Dutch oven and repeat this process with the rest of the pork cubes.
If you haven’t already, you can dice vegetables while the pork cooks.
When the second batch of pork is nicely seared, return the first batch to the pot, lower the heat slightly and add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Stir to combine all ingredients and cook for about 10 mins., stirring rarely, only to prevent sticking and burning. You want the vegetables to soften and gain a little color. Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir, then pour in the red wine and raise the heat again. Boil until the wine has reduced by almost half, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as it does. Add the thyme sprigs and chicken stock and bring to a boil. As soon as the mixture boils, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer gently for 2 hours.
After two hours, your braise will look like the picture above. It might seem like there is a lot of liquid, but that’s okay. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for at least 30 mins. before proceeding.
After the pork has cooled slightly, it’s time to transform it into sauce. Remove the woody stems of the thyme sprigs. If you have a Blendtec or similar blender, you will be amazed how easy it is: add the mixture carefully to your WildSide jar and pulse on Speed 3 for 2-5 SECONDS. That is not a misprint. It takes longer to pour the mixture into the jar than it does to turn it into sauce. If you don’t have a Blendtec, use an immersion blender or food processor. Remember that you’re just breaking the meat up, not going for puree! The pork is so tender it doesn’t take any time to shred.
Return the pork sugo to the Dutch oven and stir in the oregano, parsley and red pepper flakes, if using. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve the sugo any of the ways I mentioned above or however you enjoy meat sauce. Leftover sugo will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to three months.