The base ingredient in a pork shoulder casserole is the meat that comes from the shoulder area of the pig. It is often called pork butt or Boston butt, even though it comes from the shoulder. These cuts of pork will sometimes come with the shoulder blade still in place, depending on where it is purchased. Preparing pork shoulder for a casserole can be done through slow-roasting, braising or even stir-frying. How the meat is cooked before it is added to the pork shoulder casserole will change the taste, texture and appearance of the dish.
Seasoning the pork shoulder before cooking is important for a casserole, where the meat's flavor will probably shine through. Pork that will be shredded and mixed into barbecue sauce for sandwiches, on the other hand, needs little seasoning since the sauce will provide a strong flavor. Salt and pepper at a minimum can help add flavor to the pork. A rub made of different seasonings can also be used for a highly seasoned casserole.
One of the most common, and probably easiest, ways of cooking pork shoulder is slow-roasting. This method of slow cooking is typically good for pork because the meat can tend to be dry. Longer cooking times at lower temperatures help soften the fibers and avoid pulling moisture from the meat through excess heat. An average pork butt can take around three hours, give or take 30 minutes or so, in an oven set to 325°F (about 160°C).
When roasting pork, it is important to use a thermometer to gauge the internal temperature of the meat. The center of the roast needs to reach a temperature of at least 160°F (about 70°C) to kill any bacteria present that can cause illness. Pork shoulder can be cooked longer for a more well-done roast, but there is more potential for drier meat with longer cooking times. Covering the pan with a tight lid or tinfoil can help hold moisture in and result in a tender, juicy cut of pork.
Braising the meat for a pork shoulder casserole is another option. The meat can be put into a large pan on top of the stove to sear and slightly cook the outsides. This can help keep juices in and provide some pork fat that can be used to cook vegetables for the casserole. It can also be used to make a roux with flour to create a sauce for the dish. Using it in this way can add even more flavor to the finished pork shoulder casserole.
After either roasting or braising, the pork should generally be shredded for casseroles. Raw pork shoulder that is sliced and cubed can be used if a different texture is desired. The raw pork should be prepared using a cooking method such as stir-frying before being added to the rest of the ingredients. This can give the pork shoulder casserole more of a chunkier, stew-like consistency than one that contains shredded pork.