Maiale al Latte

photo credit: Jonathan Lovekin for The Observer

Several people, after reading Cooked, have attempted to make Maiale al Latte, or pork cooked in milk, with varying degrees of success.  I've gotten a bunch of requests for guidance, so even though it's hardly something I'd cook myself in August, I'm just gonna go ahead and give you all a recipe for it so you can experience the counterintuitive deliciousness that happens when milk curdles and caramelizes around slow-cooked pork.

Traditionally, this dish is made with pork loin, but I prefer it with pork shoulder because rather than toughening with hours of cooking, it relaxes and becomes tender.

6 pounds pork shoulder, cut into two-pound chunks
Zest of 2 lemons, removed in 1-inch strips (I like to use a vegetable peeler for this)
12 sage leaves
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1 gallon whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper, if desired

The night before cooking, season the pork generously with salt on all sides.  If desired, season with freshly ground black pepper as well.

The day of cooking, pull the meat out a few hours before you're ready to start.

When it's time to start cooking, get out your biggest dutch oven (maybe two dutch ovens, if you've got them!).  Heat it over medium heat, and when it's nice and hot, lightly coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil.  Place as much meat in the pan so that it's packed in a single layer--no more--and the meat isn't touching, and brown over medium-high heat on all sides until it's nice and golden all around.  You might have to do this in a couple batches.

When the meat is all brown, turn off the flame, tip out the grease and place the meat back into the pot.  Now, it's ok if it touches, but it should still all be in a single layer, no more.  If you have more meat than will fit in the pan in a single layer, use a second pan for the rest of the meat.  Add the zest, the sage, and the garlic cloves, and then enough milk to go halfway up the sides of the meat.  I usually will squeeze in the juice of half a lemon to get the curdling going faster, though the oil from the zest is actually enough to curdle the milk.  So, do it or not--you can't mess it up either way.  Turn the heat on, cover the pot (but leave the lid ajar), and bring the milk to a boil, then immediately reduce to a gentle simmer.  The milk should be just barely active, so usually this means that the burner is on the lowest possible heat.  Milk has a lot of sugar in it, and it will burn super easily, so turn it down!

It will take the pork shoulder at least three hours to become tender, so pull up a good book, or take this time to make some polenta, beans, or greens.  Clean your kitchen.  Sort through old family photos.  Organize your spice shelf.  Whatever you do, don't leave the kitchen, because you're going to have to do three things for the duration of the cooking to make sure things don't go awry:

1) turn the pork pieces--as in rotate them and move them around in the pot--every fifteen minutes or so so that they don't stick and burn,
2) scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to make sure that the milk, though it will caramelize and that is really tasty, does not burn,
3) constantly be adding more milk so that the total liquid level never is less an inch and a half up the sides of the pork.

After about 30-40 minutes, the milk will start to curdle and thicken, and though it looks really gross at first (Who am I kidding?  It looks pretty gross the whole time), it will taste so so so so so good.  But those curds are prone to burning, so take your stirring seriously.

When the meat falls apart to the touch--this might take 3 hours, or closer to 4, then it's done.  Remove the pork from the pan, and do your best to skim off some of the insane levels of fat that have rendered out of both the pork and the milk.  For something like this, the easiest way to do that (short of chilling the whole thing overnight and scraping off the cold fat) is to pour all of the curd sauce into a tall, narrow container like a measuring cup, and then use a spoon or a ladle to siphon the fat off the top. Once you've gotten the fat off (or most of it), taste the sauce and adjust the salt if necessary.

Slice the pork into portions, and serve with generous amounts of the sauce.  This is traditionally served with polenta, greens, or white beans.  I like it with a big pile of barely blanched green beans, so that I have something really fresh to eat alongside the super comforting, really cooked pork.

I purposely wrote the recipe for 10+ portions, so you'd have leftovers.  For this much of a time investment, you should get a few meals!!!


  1. Thanks for this Samin! Sounds delicious - but will have to wait until November or so to try it out. LA is burning up and we've been sticking to granitas and the sort. And for the record nothing pleases me more than spending 3 hrs in the kitchen-pantry clean out anyone?

  2. Thanks Samin, This recipe was wonderful. I made this last night night but I substituted an elk roast for the pork shoulder and threw in a few Juniper berries for just a bit more bitterness. I was definitely pleased with how it turned out, and now I can't wait to try it with pork. Other than the time commitment, the recipe is so simple and easy.

  3. I'm on page 175 of "Cooked" and had to find the recipe. I plan to make it In two days with fresh pork shoulder. Sides: polenta and carrots/kale. And I plan to clean the kitchen cupboards while it cooks: a X-mas gift to myself.

  4. Thank you so much for putting this up! I was prepared to just wing it but am SO glad I found these more detailed instructions (including quantities). I have a baby, so sticking around the house will not be a problem *smile*
    I loved the braising section of "cooked" the best and plan to try the Moroccan lamb one next. You are an inspiration. Thank you for loving food and cooking so much, as I do! The kitchen should be the warm heart of the house, not a place of isolated drudgery. It is the hearth, the fire-pit, of our modern homes, and the delicious scents and flavors draw us all in and make us welcome.

  5. oh my goodness!! i just read Cooked and having recently grilled a heritage ham with excellent results, thought i'll give the ~milk cooked pork~a try, so went looking for a recipe online and found a few *but* little did i think to get the one in the book, right from the horses mouth no less, lovely :)
    now to see how it turns out, it sure sounds mouth wateringly tasty . . . . plus your recipe covers my 7 person family very well, bonus!!

    question: im getting my meat from a friend who has a hog farm and she has boston butts and fresh hams, bone in . . . .can i use either of these cuts instead of the shoulder? while i can experiment to find out for myself, it would be nice to know before hand :)
    thanks :)

    1. Hi! Boston Butt actually is pork shoulder (one of two traditional American cuts within it), so I would recommend that! I would discourage you from using ham since it's going to be much, much drier, but in a pinch you could use it. Hope it all works out!

    2. how little i know about cuts of meat! just learned something new, thank you :)

      i can't wait to read your book . . . . two of the most useful tips i picked up in cooked came from you . . . . one involved salting liberally and the other was about the meat scrunching up all stiff and short and then relaxing into soft yumminess . . . alas after that the book came overdue with a queue at the library so back it has gone till i can renew and finish it's enjoyable pages :) until then, i shall give the pork butt a try . . .

      thanks again!

    3. well finally got around to cooking that butt, and wallah!! it is incredibly tasty!! with saffron risotto and oniony/garlicy kale, lip smackingly deliciouso :)

  6. I'm another Cooked-inspired cook :) By any change do you mean to cut the pork into 2 ounce chunks and not 2 pound chunks?

  7. Scratch my comment yesterday. I made the maiale today, following the instructions exactly. The pork was so tender and the flavour so complex. The sage I used was picked fresh from the garden and so was the kale that I served with it. Thank you so much, Samin!

    1. So happy to hear it, Christine! I like big, rustic pieces of meat, so yes on the 2# chunks!