As an undergrad, I had the great pleasure and luxury of studying abroad for a few quarters. I spent one of them in Australia on a marine biology- and oceanography-focused itinerary that had us on the go every week or so. We traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard, conducting research projects along the Great Barrier Reef and wearing our swimsuits to classes held on white sand beaches.
I never managed to funnel my island vacation into a viable career, but I learned a lot about the ocean and even more about Australian culture during those three months. There was a lot of beer, and not just because we were a group of underage drinkers unleashed in a country where we were, indeed, of age. No, something about the Australian culture dictated that we always have a bottle of beer in hand.
I was all for the upbeat social culture, but at the time hadn’t yet grown to tolerate the taste of alcohol. My, how times have changed! As I was always being pestered and plied with drinks, I quickly adopted a fail-proof strategy for staving off alcoholic advances: Bundaberg. In Australia, this ginger beer is available at just about every outlet that sells beer. So, it’s available everywhere. Housed in a dark brown glass bottle with an understated label, it might as well be beer. And the spicy kick makes it an addictive pleasure!
Back in the States that spring, I managed to source some Bundaberg from a local Cost Plus. From time to time I pick up a four-pack for a taste of gingery nostalgia. I’ve also found that it’s a great ingredient in marinades and sauces. In my most recent endeavor with the golden elixir, I used it to both deglaze and slow-cook a braised pork dish.
While ginger beer is very sweet, the addition of three cups of chopped rhubarb tarts up the cooking liquid and cuts through the richness of the pork shoulder. Rhubarb is a super-seasonal ingredient, so find some soon! Please note that Bundaberg makes a lookalike reduced-calorie version of their ginger beer, which I strongly suggest you avoid for this dish. The only thing worse than fake sugar’s very existence would be pairing it with something as downright delicious as pork.
braised pork with rhubarb and ginger beer
1 tbsp each olive oil and butter
2 medium onions, chopped
½ tsp sea salt or 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ tsp freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp each fresh oregano, thyme, and rosemary, minced (I eyeball these amounts)
1½ lbs boneless pork shoulder
1 bottle good-quality ginger beer, such as Bundaberg’s (about 1½ cups)
2 cups chicken stock (homemade is best, but a low- or no-sodium store-bought version works too)
3 cups chopped rhubarb (from about 3 or 4 stalks)
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh mint and/or chives, for garnish
Preheat oven to 275°F and place oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add pork shoulder and brown on all sides (6-8 minutes per side).
When sufficiently browned, transfer pork to a plate and add butter to pot. Turn heat down to medium and add onions.
Sauté onions until caramelized and somewhat translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, garlic, and fresh herbs. Sauté for an additional 2 minutes, stirring often to keep the garlic from burning.
Add browned pork shoulder and any accumulated juices, ginger beer, and chicken stock and turn heat up to bring mixture to a boil. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook for 2½-3 hours, until pork is fall-apart tender.
Remove pot from the oven and stir in rhubarb. Return to oven and cook, uncovered, until rhubarb is tender (20-30 minutes). Some, or even most, of the rhubarb will fall apart.
Garnish with mint and/or chives and serve with a cooked grain or toasted bread to sop up the sweet-and-sour liquid.