Friday, October 15, 2010

Mouthwatering Pulled Pork

Wait, you mean you got tired of staring at my bacon post? I thought everyone could stare at bacon for months on end and not get bored. Hmmm...

Alas, for those of you who have been ever so patiently waiting (or not so patiently - Hi Mom!) for this post, I suppose I can't hold out any longer. Enjoy!

I have dreams about this pulled pork. It's that good.

It's more of a cross between carnitas and pulled pork really - savory morsels of tender, carmelized pork that release a salty, savory burst of flavor that's pretty hard to beat. Even a sprinkling of this carmelized pork added to a taco or strewn across a plate of nachos takes the dish to a whole new level of savory and satisfying. Of course a heaping pile wouldn't hurt either.

It's one of those recipes that's far too simple, affordable, and forgiving to be this good. The one trade-off is time as this dish requires several hours in the oven to become meltingly soft. And while you don't have to actively do much while the dish is in the oven, it may prevent you from doing much else as you swoon over the mouthwatering fragrance coming from the kitchen. It smells heavenly. Mmmmm....

Of course to make up for the cooking time, I always make a large batch. It's great covered in barbecue sauce and ever so delicious piled onto any type of Mexican food (enchiladas, nachos, tacos, get the idea). freezes beautifully to later defrost for a quick weekday taco night - if you can refrain from eating it all within a few days, that is.

All this talk is making me wish I hadn't already finished the batch I photographed. Truly a tragedy. So onto the recipe while I mourn the current lack of pulled pork in my fridge...

Seeing as this is a pulled pork recipe, you'll need some pork. Pork shoulder (or pork butt) to be specific. I usually use a 3-5 lb roast (estimate 1/2 pound per serving).

Oh, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees!

Slice the pork into large (~ 3 inch) pieces. Salt generously (I use about 1/2 tbsp coarse salt + for a 4 pound roast). I like the meat to be salty so that even a little adds a big flavor punch. If you're using normal table salt, use a little bit less.

If you're going to be covering it in barbecue sauce or the like, you can be less generous with the salt. Or if you're using taco seasoning that's really salty you can use less salt on the meat itself.

I like salt.

Now that we're done with our salt discussion for the day, heat up a few tablespoons of oil in a cast iron skillet. Once it's very hot, add the pork to the pan (but don't crowd them, otherwise they'll boil instead of brown). You can always do this in two batches if need be.

Turn occasionally to let them brown on all sides.

Yum! Now they're seared and delicious.

If you did this in two batches, add back all the pieces to the pan.

Now add water to the pan so that the pork is 1/2 submerged in water. Add the water slowly and be careful because this pan is pretty hot.

If it makes you more comfortable, you can let the pan cool a little bit before you add the water. Whatever floats your boat.

Now it's time to add the spices! There are two routes you can go (taco seasoning or not) and I can personally attest that both are delicious.

Taco Seasoning Route: Add 3 tbsp taco seasoning, 2 bay leaves, 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp cinnamon), and 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced.

Spice Route: Add 2 bay leaves, 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp oregano, 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground).

For this batch I went the taco seasoning route. Mmmm!

Now, take this beautiful mixture and carefully place it in the oven (the pan is filled with water in case you forgot!) at 350 degrees. It will cook until the water is evaporated (about 2.5-3 hours). Flip the pieces over a couple of times during that process (maybe once an hour?).

Your kitchen should be smelling delicious at this point.

Now once the water is almost gone (there can still be a little water left) take two forks and coarsely shred the pork.

Don't forget to steal a little taste. If it's not salty enough you can add more salt. Sometimes I'll even add more taco seasoning at this point if I feel like it needs it.

This is the point at which it's pulled pork in the true sense - delicious covered in barbecue sauce.

However, if you want to go just a little further and turn it into a carnitas style pulled pork (with chewy, crispy, caramelized ends) add 1 tbsp sugar and return to the oven.

First, pretend you can actually see what's going on in the picture above (daylight was waning and my photography skills just aren't really equipped to deal with that).

What you should be seeing is delicious carmelized morsels of shredded pork. It usually takes about 30 minutes to achieve this (stirring once every 10 minutes). More time = more carmelized (less = get it).

This caramelized pork is delicious served in a simple burrito, made into enchiladas, sprinkled over nachos (heavenly!), or added to the world's best quesadilla.

Mouthwatering Pulled Pork
serves 4-8 (depending on size of pork roast and appetites)

3-5 lb pork shoulder (or pork butt)
1/2 tbsp coarse salt (a little less for normal salt)
2 tbsp oil
3 tbsp taco seasoning*
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick (or scant 1/2 tsp ground)
Optional: 1 tbsp sugar

Slice the pork into 3 inch pieces and rub with the salt. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium (or medium high) heat until quite hot. Add the pork pieces (this may require two batches to prevent overcrowding) and let brown on all sides - turning only occasionally.

Take off the heat and add water to halfway submerge the pork pieces. Do this slowly and carefully (the pan is hot).

Add the taco seasoning, cinnamon, bay leaves, and garlic.

Place in the oven for 2.5-3 hours (turning the pieces once per hour - if you remember) until the water is mostly evaporated. Use forks to shred the pork.

If desired, add 1 tbsp sugar and return to the oven for another 30 minutes, stirring once every 10 minutes, until the pork has reached the desired state of caramelization.


*alternatively use 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp chili powder, and 1 tsp oregano