I haven't done an "editor's blog" post since July, and with a couple of days of down time at hand, I wanted to offer something that could liven up a holiday dinner or two - a pulled pork recipe that has sort of evolved on its own in recent months.
For some, the terms "pulled pork" and "Christmas" aren't going to blend easily. In my family, it's a dish that my sister actually made over a number of years for family dinner on Christmas Eve. In some sort of big-picture sense, the bold flavors here actually go great a night or so before a more traditional, somewhat blander feast like turkey. So here goes.
This is a slow-cooker pulled pork recipe. Start with a pork butt, like a good three or four pound cut. It's amazing how much that stuff will break down if you let it. Marinade it overnight - and this part is as much chemistry as it is flavor. Pulled pork is a tough cut of meat with lots of connective tissue and all that fun stuff.
With the pork butt in a gallon plastic bag, I'll put in a couple of good splashes of apple cider vinegar and then put in a fair amount of apple juice - enough to cover most of the meat but also enough so the bag can close and its contents can occasionally be sort of squished around. Be careful not to use too much apple cider vinegar.
Here's what else you put in there to marinade: A generous squirt of lime juice, a couple of generous spoonfuls of molasses, a little bit of chili powder (been using New Mexico for this one), some black pepper, the juice - and the pieces if you like - of one orange or a few of those little tangerine hybrid things) a few good clumps of brown sugar, and a splash of worcestershire sauce. Some of these ingredients are natural meat tenderizers, and that cut of pork butt needs all the help it can get. I even cut a couple of large slices into the pork butt so those tenderizing agents can get more work done on it. Plan to leave it in the fridge overnight. Whenever you get a glass of water, take the bag and kind of squish it around in your hands, just to keep it all mixed and marinating.
Some may have noticed there's no reference to specific amounts of ingredients. I prefer to just sort of use my eyes and nose as a guide to what I'm looking for with this dish.
Anyone with a slow cooker already knows this is a dish you want to have started fairly early in the morning. The pork butt goes into the slow cooker and then I add in a fresh mix of the previous ingredients and leave it set on high - apple juice, apple cider vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, the freshly squeezed orange, some Worcestershire and then just any other seasoning as you see fit. I used to put pumpkin pie seasoning into this thing but used a little cocoa instead last time and had the best results yet. Nutmeg and cloves are good in small amounts here. I use a decent amount of black pepper in there almost as sort of a flavor balancing agent, if there is such a thing. I also have a cocoa/chili powder blend from McCormick that feels like it has been a good addition to this recipe.
So you're basically boiling this big ugly cut of pork meat in apple juice and other assorted ingredients for hours. Come back regularly and turn the meat over in the slow cooker so that all sides are evenly flavored. Watch out for splashing. After a couple of hours, the meat will be breaking down considerably and can be separate a bit into larger chunks. Around this time will also be a good time to cut off any over-sized bits of tissue or other unappetizing bits of the pork butt that won't fall off on their own.
When the meat is largely cooked through, but not completely, and when it has begun to assume that more familiar pulled pork appearance without completely breaking down into it - that's when I've been doing this added step that some may find cumbersome but which I think has been fairly significant.
Basically, I pour out the soupy concoction in the slow cooker, clean it out, and put the pork back in with a completely fresh mix of the above mentioned ingredients again. For this final stage, I will add a packet of chipotle seasoning to really bring it all home. It takes the heat a while to come back up, and from here, maybe about two hours remain. When the meat is about done, you can let that fresh concoction of apple juice, etc., start boiling off and reducing in the slow cooker by leaving the lid slightly open. I usually let it get down to the point where very, very little liquid is at the bottom but where it has also not dried out yet. In all my cooking, I try to eliminate all visible fat and gristle as a general principle.
Finally, on barbecue sauce - I'll usually put a little barbecue sauce on my pulled pork, but after a September lunch in Anchorage, Alaska, my tastes have changed forever - I now believe that Chinese hoisin sauce is the magic ingredient for pulled pork.
This stuff is great in a nice big sandwich, but I prefer corn bread with my pulled pork. One more tip - if you're looking for a great side dish for this, pick up the cucumber salad from Tennessee's BBQ on Route 114 in Peabody if you're nearby.
Here's the full list of ingredients from above:
A pork butt
Apple cider vinegar
One orange or a couple of mineola-sized ones.
One packet of chipotle seasoning
(And try it with the hoisin sauce. Seriously)
Anyhow, there you have it. If you're looking for a bold and flavorful dish to serve at a holiday gathering, give it a shot and let me know if you liked it. And have a happy holiday season.
Editor's Note: Is chili more your thing? I can help you out there too - and also apparently with a steak marinade.