Saturday, May 17, 2008

Crock Pot Pulled Pork and Old-Fashioned Coleslaw

My appetite has returned, and it's highly suggestible. A photo, an aside in a novel, a whiff of a restaurant's exhaust fan, and I can develop a craving. Usually these cravings are easily satisfied, but I recently made the mistake of reading a book that included a reference to barbecue. I grew up in the South, so I know what barbecue is supposed to taste like, but I live in the North, so access to the real thing is a problem. There is a neighborhood barbecue restaurant, from which my sound judgment had kept me until now, but the craving would not be denied. We went there for lunch.

The good news is, whoever is choosing the meat and running the smoker isn't doing a bad job, but that's where the good news ends. The "pulled pork" sandwich that I ordered was more of a "chunked pork" sandwich. And the chunks, instead of being bathed in thin, savory, vinegary juice, were dry. There was a bottle of thick, homemade-looking sauce on the table, but after tasting it, I realized that they must have run out of the real thing and borrowed some mysterious condiment from the Indian restaurant next door. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything that should go on barbecue. So there wasn't even any liquid to help my sandwich stay a sandwich. Big hunks of dry meat ejected themselves from the back end of the bun at every bite. I ended up using a fork. And the coleslaw, which I had been relying on to prevent the meal from being a complete loss, was... pasty. It had an indefinable textural wrongness to it that, well, I can't define. All I can say is that although it looked likely enough, it tasted almost, but not quite, entirely unlike coleslaw.

Not only was my craving unsatisfied, I now had a taste to get out of my mouth and an experience to rinse out of my brain. Since pork is cheaper than airplane tickets, I figured I should try something I've never done: making barbecue at home. I realized I should try this when I saw a big hunk in the back of the pork case in the grocery store: a picnic shoulder. It was bigger than my head and its thick skin still had a few little pig hairs sticking out if it. The real deal, and only a buck a pound. So I brought it home, figuring I'd find a recipe for pulled pork somewhere.

I consulted cookbooks and the internet, looking for the common threads. Unfortunately, the common thread was "things you don't have in the house." You might say that I'm interested in efficiency, or you might say I'm lazy. Either way you'd be right. I didn't want to get involved in a project involving smokers or brine or wood chips or, heck, even another trip to the grocery store. All I really wanted was one good sandwich, and I was only willing to go so far in order to get it. So I read enough recipes to get a feel for Pulled Pork Theory, and then got as close as I could with what I had around.

And it was good. Well, I liked it, and the four Yankees I shared it with liked it too, but what do they know. All I can say is, it seems reasonably close to the barbecue (or pulled pork) that they used to serve in my elementary school cafeteria, and that you can still get at little places all over the Upland South.

No Browning, No Chopping, No Smoking, No Shopping Crock Pot Pulled Pork
Serves 8-10. Takes at least a whole day, if not two.

1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried minced garlic
2 teaspoons smoked chili powder
1 tablespoon dried chopped onion
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 picnic shoulder of pork, bone-in, skin-on, hairs optional (8.5 lbs)

to taste, at the end:
honey or sugar
more salt
more chili powder
more vinegar

Mix everything but the pork in the bottom of a large crock pot. Set the pork on top of the sauce. Let it cook on high for 8 to 10 hours (I set it for 8, and it looked like it could have gone longer). Once it's done, you can either set the meat and sauce in the fridge overnight and deal with it tomorrow, or you can get to it. Either way, you'll want to remove the fat from the sauce and set it aside (don't throw it away yet). Remove and discard the skin and attached big hunks of fat from the meat. Get rid of the bone(s) and any obvious tendon-type things. Put the sauce and the hunks of meat in a saucepan, and if the sauce is too thin and soupy, bring it to a simmer to reduce it. As it cooks, stir. If the meat is cooked enough, it'll will break down into shreds as you stir. Taste and adjust seasoning. You might need more sweetness, more salt, more spice, or more vinegar. As you taste and add, also evaluate how rich it is. Add in as much of the reserved fat as you like. Aim for just enough so it doesn't taste thin, but not so much that it becomes actively greasy.

If you're trying to replicate that (well, my) Southern barbecue experience, serve it with coleslaw on squishy rolls that compress down to almost nothing as you squeeze your sandwich. They're not substantial enough to interfere with the relationship between the hot juicy barbecue and the cool crisp slaw, but they still do a fine job of holding everything together and absorbing whatever juice isn't busy dripping off your elbows. If you're from some other part of the country and had a culturally deprived childhood, you might enjoy it on a bread of more substance. I'll allow it.

*Bread Update*
The first round of buns was from the regular grocery store. I didn't scrutinize the ingredients, but I bet they had all kinds of hydrogenated and high-fructose ingredients. They were great: nice and squishy when dry, chewy even when soaked, and just bready enough.

The next round was from the fancy store, where they don't use any of that fake stuff. They were awful. Dry and stiff when dry, gluey when soaked. Almost bad enough to keep me from having a barbecue sandwich every day for the last four days. Almost. So beware! If you're a no-crappy-ingredients stickler, don't even try to go the squishy-bread route. You'd be better off with a nice yuppie bread.

Innovation-Free Coleslaw
Serves 8-10

1 savoy cabbage, finely sliced or shredded
1 small onion, finely chopped
3-4 carrots, grated
1.5 cups Hellman's mayonnaise
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground pepper
salt to taste

Mix. Let sit 2 hours or up to overnight.


Anonymous said...

mmm pork,my favorite food.pork shoulder take two:
Pork shoulder in dutch oven in reg oven. Cook at 300 for 6-8 hrs. Pull out, shred with two forks,pour vinegar and hot pepper flakes over the shredded meat and serve.

excellent with spanish rice, corn tortillas and masses of guacamole

fatty carbuncle

Kim said...

I absolutely love this blog!! Your a total cutie!! I've had my experiences with pulled pork. I definitely got my recipe down now, & I only use the cheap store brand hamburger buns. They last forever, strange but helpful & they are amazingly squishy!! I use vidalia onion, sweet bbq sauce, garlic, worstechire, allspice, emeril's rib rub, & red wine cook for 6 hours in the crock pot, remove the fat, shred & cook with juices again about an hour.