As I’ve never really understood the appeal of bread sauce served with roasted meat, I strongly identified with Letitia Clark’s story about her boyfriend Luca’s horror at the idea of it. Bread sauce isn’t a tradition in Italy, but cooking meat in milk is a much loved classic, with the milk turning into a sweet, nutty and almost cheesy sauce to the meat.
Yesterday, we shared Letitia Clark’s recipe for Sardinian Slow-cooked Flat Beans with Tomato, Pancetta and Chilli.
Today, it’s a hearty and delicious Italian Pork Cooked in Milk with Cloves. Letitia explains that while she learned this recipe in Sardinia, she suspects the technique hails from Northern Italy, where cooking with milk is more common.
Pork Cooked in Milk with Cloves (Maiale al Latte)
My mother’s bread sauce is the stuff of dreams. Pale pillows of creamy sweetness, a translucent curl or two of silken onion, the spicy whisper of cloves. Always served in the same green French earthenware pot, alongside roast chicken. Obviously when I regale Luca with this fond memory, he’s horrified with the idea of eating milky, soggy bread with roast meat.
Bread sauce does not exist in Italy, but rather than eating meat with a milky sauce, there is a tradition of cooking the meat in milk. Pork cooked in milk is a well-known and loved Italian classic, and Marcella Hazan’s infamous bolognaise ragù advises cooking the mince in milk to tenderise and enrich it. Milk, when cooked like this, becomes sweet, nutty, faintly caramelised and almost cheesy. It’s a little like eating meat with a sort of cheese-infused cream.
The cooked milk curds have the same savoury caramel note as a good aged Parmesan. Franca told me about a Sardinian recipe for pork cooked in milk with cloves. It’s one she learnt from her mother-in-law, and I suspect it may have trickled down by way of northern Italy, where milk is more common in cooking. Nonna Titina also liked to cook her minestra in milk. Either way, I tried it and it reminded me of my mother’s bread sauce. It has the same heady sweet, savoury and spicy mix. A happy meeting of my old home, and my new one. Luca can go whistle. This dish is very, very beige, but don’t let that deter you, it is delicious.
- 3 kg 6 lb 10 oz boned pork shoulder, trimmed of extra fat
- sea salt
- 4 cloves
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 40 g 1½ oz butter
- 3 sprigs of sage
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 bay leaves
- 1.5 litres (51 fl oz/6½ cups) whole (full-fat) milk
- peeled zest of 2 lemons
- wilted greens, to serve
Season the pork well all over with sea salt and stud it with the cloves.
In a large, deep, frying pan (skillet) over a medium high heat, brown the pork in the oil evenly on all sides.
In a deep casserole dish (Dutch oven) over a medium heat, warm the butter. Add the sage and the garlic and allow to cook for a few minutes until fragrant.
Add the bay leaves, milk and the lemon zest. Bring the whole lot up to a simmer, add the pork and place the lid on, partially askew, to allow the steam to escape, and leave to cook over a low heat for at least 3 hours, until the meat is meltingly tender, and gives when prodded with a fork.
Serve in slices, with extra sauce spooned over the top, and some wilted greens.
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Bitter Honey by Letitia Clark is published by Hardie Grant. Recipe extracted with permission. Photography by Matt Russell.