When I fetched a pork roast from the wooden chest in the red shed on those cold winter mornings, I knew that Mom would be making her pork pot roast for supper that night. I don’t remember her ever roasting pork (with the exception of hams) or beef in the oven. She browned the roasts, then simmered them slowly with vegetables until they were fork tender. I loved her pot roasts then and still do my best to imitate her recipes.
Mom was an avid experimenter, but mainly with salads and casseroles. Show her a new way to use Jell-O or Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and she would try it. Her main dishes tended to be more conventional. Then too, we had a big garden every summer, so potatoes, carrots and onions were always available and virtually free. These were one-pot meals with plenty of food for everyone. Conventional but delicious, especially with homemade bread and dessert.
My dietary horizon expanded when I went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. As I look back at those years in residence halls, I realize today that I had lucked into a golden age of cafeteria food. Van Hise Hall had a chef who had cooked, we were told, at a four star hotel. After some misunderstandings between students and chef were rectified, we began dining in ways that today’s college students might envy.
I learned that hams, turkeys and chickens were not the only meats that could be roasted in the oven. We had prime rib, Baron of Beef, roast pork and what was described as leg of lamb. My guess is that the “lamb” was really “ram” that had been stored in old army blankets before being shipped to Madison. I think that this was the only roast almost universally rejected by dorm residents. We had it once.
The chef did not share his recipes but I think that this one comes close to capturing the magic of a perfect pork roast. The herbs and spices create an aromatic taste treat and the flour worked into the outside of the meat produces a wonderful crisp crust.
One boneless pork butt roast, 3 to 4 lbs.
3 medium or 2 large cloves fresh garlic
3 T flour
1/3 to 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/3 tsp. dried crushed rosemary
1/4 to 1/3 tsp. basil
1/4 to 1/3 tsp. paprika
Dash of cayenne
1/8 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. olive oil
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel and slice the garlic cloves into thin spears. With a thin knife tip, poke holes in the roast and insert a spear of garlic in each hole. You should have 12 to 15 spears in the roast spaced evenly over the surface. Rub the teaspoon of olive oil over the meat.
Crush the rosemary in a mortar and pestle or with a cup and spoon. Mix the flour, herbs and spices together on a sheet of waxed paper. Roll the roast in this mixture and press the mixture into the surface until nearly all of the flour is stuck to the meat.
With an ice pick or nail, make a hole in the roast and insert a meat thermometer into the center. Place fat side up on a roasting rack in a pan in the hot oven. Turn heat down to 350 degrees, and roast until the thermometer registers 160 degrees (about 30 minutes per pound). Remove the roast from the oven and let it sit for 4 or 5 minutes before removing any netting that might be around the roast. Make pan gravy if you like.
Serve with cranberry or apple sauce, parsley potatoes or boiled potatoes, gravy and a green or yellow vegetable accompanied by fresh bread. The USDA revised pork cooking guidelines say you can serve pork roasts with an internal temperature of 145 degrees. I prefer the older standard, but you will get a juicier roast at the lower temperature.