Friday, March 21, 2008

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork
Daffodils and cherry blossoms may be blooming everywhere but winter isn't going down without a fight. Sure yesterday was the first day of spring but... well, just see for yourself.

the weather...
SNOW? Okay, so the snow is very unlikely, that's rare around these parts even in the middle of January. I don't know what the hell those meteorologists are doing over there but it definitely ain't meteorologizing. I guess it could be worse, it could actually be snowing, but it's still pretty darn cold, wet, and windy and that doesn't exactly make me crave a light mixed-greens salad or steamed asparagus. I want something hearty, filling, and meaty - something braised. Braised dishes make me happy because, 1. they require little to no prep, throw everything in the pot and you're good to go, 2. it's cheap, transforming lousy tough cuts of meat into 3. something meltingly tender and totally delicious, 4. and best of all, it tastes even better the next day - isn't it great to look forward to eating leftovers? As Martha Stewart would say, "it's a good thing".

Authentic Carolina pulled pork, or simply BBQ, is smoked but I do not own a smoker or know how to use one for that matter nor do I intend to rig some contraption to smoke indoors which would most likely fill my abode with smoke and grease. So I cheat, and use the slow cooker. You don't even have to rub the pork and let it sit overnight. It's partly me being lazy but the whole thing is just gonna get mixed all up anyway so no need to let the flavors permeate right? After a few hours in the cooker, the pork pretty much pulls itself. A few tosses with the tongs and it just falls apart into submission. Then slathered in sauce and piled high on a bun, it makes for a great dinner and lunch the next day.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
3 lbs pork butt (which is the shoulder) or country style ribs are a good substitute
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp whole cumin seeds, smashed or crushed (can use a mortar and pestle or just give it a few chops with a knife or smashes with a meat mallet)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced (no biggie)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
1/4 C brown sugar
3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 C chicken stock or water

Cider vinegar to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Sear and brown the pork on all sides and transfer to the crock pot or Dutch oven.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion to the residual oil in the skillet. Add the chili powder, smoked paprika, pepper, and cumin seeds and cook in the oil to bloom the flavor of the spices, about 3 - 5 minutes. Then add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cayenne pepper, brown sugar, worchestershire sauce, salt, and chicken stock or water. Bring to a boil and pour the skillet contents over the pork in the slow cooker or Dutch oven (everything except the vinegar should be in the slow cooker now). Cook on high for an hour then turn to low for as many hours as it takes for the pork to be fork tender, 6 - 8 hours for a whole pork butt. Country style ribs are in smaller pieces and will cook faster or you can cut your pork butt into 1 pound pieces for it to cook faster. You can also cut the cooking time down if you cook it on high the whole time, but if the bubbles get too vigorous you will need to turn it to long because boiling will toughen the meat. You want to cook at a barely there simmer. Or if you do not have a slow cooker, use a Dutch oven and transfer the pot to a 300 degree F oven and cook until the meat is fork tender.

Carefully transfer the meat only to a large bowl and use tongs or two forks to pull the pork. If it does not pull that easily, wait for it to cool enough to pull with your hands.

Strain the cooking liquid and discard the spent and mushy onions and any floating impurities. Reduce this liquid in a saucepan by about half, to a somewhat thicker sauce like consistency. It shouldn't be as goopy as bottled sauces but it should have some body. Add the pulled pork back in and add vinegar to taste. In North Carolina the sauce is vinegar based, devoid of any tomato product, so in keeping with tradition, I just used only cider vinegar in addition to the pork's natural braised juices.

Now pile it on high on a hoagie or bun, don't be shy. Devour that meaty, bun soaked goodness.

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