One of the best meals I ever ate was at a run-down BBQ stand on the side of a highway in upstate New York. It was the height of northern hemisphere summer and local families sat eating together at outdoor tables, sunburnt kids - still wet from lake swims - hula-hooped on the grass as the trucks thundered past. The American flag flapped in the breeze and 50s rock 'n' roll played on a sound system from roughly the same era. It was hot, and though it was evening, there was still so much light in the sky. My dinner came on a paper plate. I ate it with my hands. It cost less than $5 and it was so good. Two words: pulled pork.
For those who haven't had it before, pulled pork is basically a large, boneless shoulder cut rubbed with spices and cooked slowly in the oven til so tender it can - quite literally - be pulled apart. It's then slathered in a sweet, spicy barbeque sauce and served stuffed in a roll, usually with a slaw of some kind - a light, crunchy contrast to the dark deliciousness of the charred, juicy meat.
I'm just about as far away as you can get from that BBQ stand at the moment - in Sydney, indoors, dark mid-winter. I can't recreate the place or the weather, but the pork, that I can do. And so much more easily now since The New York Times published a recipe for small-batch pulled pork, that allows me to fulfil my nostalgic cravings without having to invite hordes of people over to help me eat it (this wouldn't normally be something I'd consider a problem but somehow my social circle seems to include quite a lot of vegetarians) or be condemned to have pulled pork every meal for a week, maybe two (and while I do love it, I'm not sure I would after that). This recipe scales down the quantity to a manageable amount of meat - enough to be generous, not so much as to be overwhelming. Just enough to conjure up summer on a cold winter's day.
Small-batch pulled pork
Adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark for the New York Times
With the cooking and marinating times and the long list of ingredients, this might seem quite intimidating but if you break up the prep over two days, I promise it's really very easy. Just make the spice rub and massage it into the meat the night before you want to serve it (leaving it in the fridge overnight for the flavours to intensify), then it's just a matter of cooking the pork and assembling the sauce the next day.
For the pork
1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seed
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt (I used Maldon)
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 1/2 teaspoons dry chilli powder
3 teaspoons dark brown sugar
3 1/2 pounds (1.5kg or thereabouts) boneless pork shoulder
rolls for serving
For the barbeque sauce
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons sweet or hot paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of cayenne
- Assemble the spice rub for the pork: in a dry, small skillet over medium-low heat, toast coriander, cumin and peppercorns til fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind toasted spices into a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and mix with salt, mustard powder, chilli powder and sugar.
- If your roast is tied up, untie it. Massage meat generously with spice rub. If you have time, let meat rest for an hour or two at room temperature, or refrigerate several hours or overnight.
- Heat oven to 300 deg F. Place pork in a baking pan and roast for 3-4 hours or until meat is pull-apart tender. Let meat cool for at least 30 minutes before pulling it apart and shredding with your hands or two forks (this works best when the meat is warm but not hot).
- Prepare the barbeque sauce: combine ingredients in a medium pot. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce has deepened in colour. Add two thirds of the sauce to the meat and toss to coat, adding more sauce as needed.
- Serve in rolls with slaw (recipe follows) and extra sauce (if desired).
Apple cabbage slaw
Adapted from a recipe from Ming Thompson as published in Design Sponge
There are a million and one recipes for coleslaw out there. Maybe you have a favourite already and if so, by all means use that. However, this is the one I like best with pulled pork because it's crunchy and fresh rather than wet and soggy, like a lot of mayonnaise-bound slaws. And the apple goes beautifully with pork. Ideally, you'd make this after putting the pork in the oven - while it's cooking the slaw can be marinating in the fridge and so will be ready to serve at the same time as the meat.
1/2 head cabbage
1 green apple
1 red onion
handful of parsley
1 cup cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Slice cabbage, apple and onion into thin slices. Chop parsley. Mix together in a bowl with cider vinegar and salt and pepper. Marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours.