Ok, I know this blog can be a little bit, shall we say, pork-centric. And I admit it: I love me some pig. But I think it is only fair to say that maiale al latte, or Italian pork roasted in milk, is one of the world’s great dishes. I’ve always been slightly obsessed with the way that the milk cooks down to almost nothing, leaving not so much a sauce as a pile of rich caramel nuggets. It’s like savoury dulce de leche, which can only be a Very Good Thing.
I actually came to cooking this dish yesterday in a roundabout manner, via a bag of sorrel. I’d gone to the hippie market on Friday for some vegetables and cheese, and came across big bags of sorrel. I don’t see sorrel in such quantities very often, so I bought it without a clear idea of what exactly I was going to do with it. When lovely Glasgow friends D&J came down for the weekend, I decided that sorrel pesto was the way to go, and thus, that I was cooking Italian. Sorrel pesto is grassy, lemony and sharp, so I wanted something a bit more comforting for a main course, especially given the appalling rainy weather we’ve been having. (Poor D&J had imagined that Brighton in July would mean lying on the beach, walking on the Downs and boutique shopping in town. Instead we huddled indoors with the weekend newspapers and several bottles of wine. Granted, this was not in any way unpleasant, but still.) I hit on maiale al latte as a dish that’s both shockingly simple to make and delicious enough to feed to company.
Now, there are various accounts of maiale al latte that seek to complicate it. Some recipes add aromatics and herbs at the beginning, from garlic and juniper to bay leaves or rosemary. Others seek to render the final sauce more visually appealing by whisking it with cream or wine. To these modernisers I say feh! As Marcella Hazan’s classic recipe in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking demonstrates, the true wonder of this dish is its simplicity. The only ingredients you need are pork, milk, butter, salt, pepper. It’s barely a recipe really and yet the results are sublime.
Maiale al latte
- 1 leg of pork (or other cut that will stand up to long cooking)
- 2 1/2 cups of whole milk
- butter and/or oil for frying
Season the meat with salt and pepper but don’t go overboard – the flavours will concentrate as the sauce reduces! Brown the pork all over in the butter and/or oil in a heavy pot. Add a cup of milk, stir while it boils, and turn the heat down low. Cover the pot, leaving it slightly ajar and simmer gently for about an hour until the milk has cooked down to curds and fat. Turn the meat now and again. Add another cup of milk and go through the same process, then do the same with a half cup of milk – this will take less time to cook down, obviously. With a big chunk of pork leg, I cooked it for about 2.5 hours in total but if your meat requires less cooking time, you can either take out out it early or use less milk. Remove the pork, let it rest for a few minutes, and then slice it. Spoon over the ‘sauce’, which should be lumpy, brown, and yet unutterably delicious.
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s version, serves 4.