A good side dish for pork shoulder would be anything that balances out the taste of the meat. Unlike beef, which is assertive but relatively one-dimensional, the fatty pork shoulder has a low-key but insistently rich flavor. Your side dishes can either provide a supportive background for the meat, or balance its richness with their own bold flavors.
Sweet and Starchy Vegetables
Potatoes are one of the most universal side dishes, and their low-key, sturdy presence works well with pork shoulder. If you've prepared the shoulder as a traditional roast, mashed or boiled potatoes make an excellent vehicle for the tasty gravy, while roasted potatoes with plenty of garlic or rosemary can stand up to the pork's richness. Among vegetables, carrots, with their abundance of natural sugar, can be roasted together with onions and garlic in the same pan as a pork shoulder. Butternut squash, pumpkin and yams also bring sweet complements to a pork shoulder.
Side dishes made with fruit's balance of sweet and tart flavors have long been favored as pairings with pork because they enhance the meat's savor. Apples in various forms from stews to applesauce are a traditional side dish with a savory pork shoulder. Pears or plums can serve as a change of pace from apples, and roasted slices of pineapple - more commonly served with ham - work equally well as a fruity side dish with pork.
Bitter Greens Give Balance
Bitter greens offer a buffet of side dishes whose tastes complement that of a pork shoulder. For example, a traditional Southern-style New Year's Day dinner centers on pork roast paired with slow-cooked greens and black-eyed peas for good luck. Traditionally, turnips, collards or mustard greens are served, but more exotic alternatives such as kale and kohlrabi are now available as well. When preparing greens, it's best to buy about 1-1/2 times as much as would be normal serving sizes for other vegetables. That's because all greens contain a lot of water and lose volume when cooked.
Cabbage and Crunchy Greens
Lightly braised cabbage makes another good side to pork, especially when it's cooked with a hint of vinegar or apple juice to give it a touch of acidity. Alternatively, cabbage in sauerkraut form makes an excellent foil for rich pork shoulder, especially if they're cooked together. Other vegetables in the cabbage family, such as broccoli or brussels sprounts, also can complement pork's flavor. Cabbage-based slaw or crisp salads composed of crunchy greens boost the overall deliciousness of a meal centered on a pork shoulder, and form a pleasant contrast with the pork's richness. Use vinegar-based dressings rather than creamy dressings, which may be too rich with the pork.
Cynthia B. Astle is a longtime journalist who has written on practically every topic of human interest for newspapers such as the "United Methodist Reporter," magazines including "Response," "Arts Ministry" and the "Progressive Christian" and websites such as Darkwood Brew and United Methodist Insight. She was also a food editor and restaurant reviewer for the "Clearwater Sun."