Here is my journey’s end, here is my butt,
And very sea-mark of my utmost sail.

~William Shakespeare, Othello, Act V, Scene II

Todd Essig’s recent essay in a Psychology Today blog offered some cogent reminders. The American mode of eating lacks vitality and has over time become unhealthy to mind and body in an almost Dickensian industrial way. Snarfing down wrapped, heat-lamped, bland, processed fast food on the run is just not good for the psyche, soul or waistline. Seems like that should be a more self-evident truth to most. (On the other hand, it does embellish agribusiness lucre on the front end and placates pharmaceutical greed on the back.)

Essig suggests that this simple human necessity, food, really demands savoring which begins with foraging at a local market, exchanging with vendors and ends with collective mirth at the table. Paying heed to those steps from the local farm to the table enhances the sensuous delights inherent in a meal. Social animals that we are, it seems there are basic psychological benefits to a more engaged eating process. You don’t say? In short, he rightly embraces “culinary mindfulness”—more engagement, more laughter, more intimacy, more gratification.

Speaking of, little could be finer than a pleasing derrière. Just nearby, a vast billboard even boldly proclaims: I like big butts and I cannot lie. I could go on about my penchants, butt… Now, despite the label, pork butt is not even derived from the ass end, and is instead carved from the pig’s shoulder. Sorry to disappoint, fellow buttocks’ inamoratas. Butchered from the dorsal region near the spine through the shoulder blade, this cut has adopted other aliases over time. Boston butt = pork butt = butt = shoulder butt = pork shoulder = shoulder roast = country roast = shoulder blade roast, and so on.

Choose butt with a smooth, firm, white fat heading and a decent amount of marbling throughout the meat. Butt should be reddish pink in color with a rather coarse grain.

The notion here is a weekend cook, low and slow. Unlike tender cuts like pork loin or pork tenderloin, a pork butt is really not there if cooked to internal temperatures of 140 F or even 170 F. To be rendered affably tender, a pork butt should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180-205 F measured in the thickest part of the meat. For sliced pork, cook towards the lower end of the spectrum and for fall-off-the-bone pulled pork choose the higher of this temperature range.

Nestled in a warm tortilla with the right friends, it makes for a close your eyes moment.


Pork Butt
7-8 lb pork butt

1 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground black pepper
2 T dried cumin seeds, roasted and ground
2 T dried oregano
1 T dried sage
1 T dried Ancho chile powder

2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 garlic heads, peeled and sliced transversely

Preheat oven to 250 F

Combine salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, sage, and dried chile powder. Mix well to make a dry rub.

Rub the pork well first with the smashed garlic and then thoroughly massage the dry rub into the butt. Discard smashed garlics. Place pork into large roasting pan and roast until the internal temperature reaches 195 F, about 9 to 10 hours.

From time to time, baste the meat with a bulb. Six hours or so through the cooking time, spoon some of the reduced basting liquid over the pork. Repeat basting process a few more times throughout the remaining cooking time. During the final two hours, arrange quartered onions and sliced garlic heads in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Remove from oven, place on a board or platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Shred the cooked pork with fingers and forks, pulling apart the meat. Discard fat and put shredded pork in a large bowl for serving.

Serve with salsa, garnishes and warm tortillas.

Basting Liquid (optional)
Juice from 4 fresh oranges
Juice from 1 fresh grapefruit
Juice from 2 fresh limes
1 C chicken stock
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 dried chile, seeded and coarsely chopped

In a small saucepan, combine orange, grapefruit and lime juice, stock, garlic and chile. Turn to medium low and simmer until reduced just by one third. Remove from heat and set aside.

Salsa Verde (Green Salsa)
1 lb tomatillos (10-12 medium), husked and rinsed
8 large garlic cloves, peels left on
1-2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 C cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt

Preheat broiler

Spread tomatillos, garlic, onions and chiles on a baking sheet and put under the broiler. Broil for about 5 minutes, until you see blackened, charred spots on the vegetables. Flip them over and roast until they become darkened, juicy, and soft.

Transfer these roasted ingredients and some of the cilantro into a food processor, and blend into a coarse purée. Add a little bit of water if necessary to attain your desired consistency. Add salt to taste, and the rest of the cilantro leaves. Set aside in a bowl.

Lime wedges
Red onions, peeled and finely minced
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Avocados, peeled and sliced
Chipotle crema
Salsa fresca
Queso fresco, crumbled