I’m seeing a lot of pulled pork around the internet these days.
That is a sentence that needs rephrased.
There is no way to phrase it that doesn’t sound rude. I’m leaving it.
I’d made pulled pork once before, using this recipe from Leite’s Culinaria for Yucatan-style slow roasted pork. I even went out and bought annatto seeds, which I had used in no other recipe since but like having in the kitchen. They’re kind of my friends now. Until I decide to grind them up and put them in the oven. Sorry, guys. There is something satisfying about making something that goes in the oven for five hours, filling your house with the smell of roasting meat and heady spices all the while. When the end result is a cut of meat that you can pull into strips with a fork, that level of satisfactions goes up another notch. So, a few weekends ago, I set about making it again, to my own recipe, which I will present to you forthwith. I was spurred on by a post on Juanita’s Cocina, where she talked about pulled pickled pork. I don’t own a slow cooker, so the recipe was going to need some tweaking, but I had a good go nonetheless.
I started with a marinade – I had great plans for this marinade. There was bourbon, thyme, homemade chili powder, brown sugar and liquid smoke. I mashed it all up with a mortar and pestle. I even took a picture I really liked of it, look:
At the end of the day, though, it wasn’t a great success. There wasn’t really enough of it – when a marinade is mostly liquid, as this one was, there really has to be enough of it to let the meat wallow. The alternatives are to produce a dry rub, or a thick paste that can get slapped on the meat and will cling as it imparts all its lovely flavours. I knew all that, but I wanted to give it a shot, anyway. Perhaps if I’d marinated the meat overnight it would have had more impact – it’s difficult to say.
The other problem was that, after letting the meat come to room temperature for about an hour and a half, with the marinade applied, I proceeded to tip a load of pickle juice into the baking dish, which inevitably rinsed the meat clean and sort of defeated the purpose of adding a marinade in the first place. I was hopeful that some flavour had already been drawn into the meat by this time, but the end result didn’t suggest that that was the case… However, don’t get me wrong – the end result was great, and I really enjoyed it! It just didn’t have the bourbon/thyme/chili/brown sugar flavours I was hoping for. We live and learn, right?
So, yes – the meat marinated for a bit, then I tipped in about half a jar of pickle juice and sliced up four or five whole pickles before throwing them on and around the pork. I also sliced up and added a couple of garlic cloves, for good measure. Before going in the oven, the meat looked like this:
I covered the baking dish tightly with several sheets of foil, and roasted at a low temperature – 135C – for almost five hours. When the pork came out again, it was ready for shredding, a task that takes a bit longer than you’d think for a big hunk of meat, but is worth it. You simply grab two forks, stick one into the meat and pull the other through it, in the direction of the grain, and watch it shred before your very eyes.
Yes, this is a yellow photograph – AGAIN. I think I now have the hang of setting my white balance, though, so these accidentally sepia photographs should be a thing of the past. Like real sepia photographs.
There is a lot of liquid in the bottom of the baking dish after all this roasting – don’t even think about throwing it out. For a start, once the pork is pulled you can add the roasting liquid to the meat, and let it absorb it all. This makes for juicy, full of flavour pork. If there is any left, keep it for making gravy at a later date – you can drain out any garlic, pickles or other detritus and stick it in the freezer. And those pickle slices you fished out? Serve them with the meat. Jen from JC calls them porkles, which is reason enough in itself to eat them.
While the pork is roasting, you should be making the other accoutrements to go with it. I chose to make everything from scratch as much as was feasible, so I made Smitten Kitchen’s brioche burger buns as the vehicle for the meat to travel from the plate to my face. They were absolutely perfect – a little sweet, a little buttery and a whole lot delicious. I even followed the recipe right, this time…
Yes, this photo is a little yellow BUT the bread AND the table are kind of yellow so I was already at a disadvantage…
I also made my own slaw – and my own mayonnaise to put in the slaw, which made me grin like an idiot for ages afterwards. I’ve made my own mayo in the food processor before, which is easy and not to be frightened of at all. You can follow this fool proof recipe from the Hairy Bikers, that’s what I usually do. I do usually half it, though, because 400ml of mayonnaise is a bit more than I need at any given time, and I’m fearful of keeping it for too long.
This time, I was at the G man’s, and bereft of my food processor. I decided to make the mayo by hand, something which is notoriously tricky and prone to curdling. Or so I thought. It was actually a breeze – before I knew it, I had a bowl of creamy, lemony, fresh mayonnaise waiting to be turned into coleslaw. No curdling or any other mishaps. A lot of whisking, of course, but that’s the essence of mayo, really – eggs, oil and a lot of whisking. Paul Merret tells you exactly how to do it, here.
Mayonniase prepared and bread risen and ready to bake, I just had to put together the purple slaw. The G man had been hard at work julienning all the ingredients, bless him, and he did a sterling job, even if he refuses ever to do it again. Consider this his food preparation opus, if you will. We’d chosen the coleslaw ingredients earlier in the day – I wanted to go for something that was going to be fresh, crunchy and a bit sweet, as well as nice to look at. We settled on carrot, red cabbage, spring onion, fennel and apple. The main thing to watch out for is that when you’ve julienned the apple, it will need to be tossed in lemon juice immediately to stop it from discolouring. Keep on top of that, and you’re onto a winner.
We judged the slaw quantities by eye, so I don’t have a recipe for you – this is really more of a discussion piece than a recipe – and once the veg amounts looked right, we tossed it all in enough mayo to coat and bind it, but not enough to create bit puddles of mayonnaise in between isolated islands of veg. Coleslaw that’s too heavy on the mayo is a big no-no, for me.
Before I served the pork I added a little liquid smoke and a little bourbon to the bowl, as well as the stock from the roasting dish, and stirred it all up. Then we had the buns, pork and slaw with some of the roasted pickles and, for a different texture, some more thinly shaved slices of pickle. Two kinds of gherkin – that is a fancy dinner.
If they’re not yellow, they’re faded like last week’s newspaper that’s been sitting in the sun.
I’m working on it.
This was an awesome dinner, and well worth the extra effort to make everything from scratch. The mayonnaise triumph is still making me very happy. We had some extra pork left over (though not as much as you’d expect, given that we ate a vast amount in one sitting) and, the following night, I combined it with some items that had been languishing in the fridge, plus some tortilla chips, to make an awesome tray of nachos.
I made a salsa with slightly poorly looking tomatoes, thyme, tabasco sauce and spring onion – very simple but much nicer than I had even hoped, given the less than pristine condition of the tomatoes. I layered up the tortilla chips with salsa, cheese and pork – my top nacho tip is to ALWAYS make at least two layers. Think of it as a sort of lasagne; you would never have just one layer of pasta, meat sauce and cheese sauce, would you? This is the same thing. If you only have one layer, you will have those tortillas in the middle with no salsa, or meat, or cheese, and they will be lonely. You do not want that on your conscience.
Follow the links throughout the post to get to the recipes for different parts of this dinner, if you fancy making it yourself. I’ll refrain from giving you my own recipe until I’ve got it exactly right. Rest assured, I plan on making it again. I also plan on trying it with some brisket – this idea has been going round and round in my head for quite some time. It won’t be long until I just have to bit the bullet and do it, if only to make space in my head for a new idea…