I’ve spent the majority of my life loudly voicing my abhorrence for pork. It wasn’t an ethical thing; I’ve always had a sweet, or rather salty, spot for bacon and ham. It was bacon that undid my mother’s early efforts to raise me vegetarian and isn’t hacking plump chunks of meat to eat straight off the Christmas ham a true highlight of the festive season?
But for some reason straight up pork made my stomach turn.
There was an incident about 10 years ago when I was visiting family friends with my parents. I was told in no uncertain terms by my stepfather that whatever was presented for dinner would’ve been prepared with much care and thought and I was to smile politely, show the appropriate level of awe and appreciation and eat it; No. Matter. What. Even if it was pork. And fuck me it was pork. A great big, thick slab of a pork chop staring menacingly back me from the plate. There was honestly a moment or two there where I thought I might actually cry. But I’m nothing if not stubborn, pigheaded even (ha, see what I did there), and I was not going to be defeated by a piece of meat. So I picked up my knife and fork and did my best to look delighted while I used all of my mental capacity to control my gag reflex. To this day, it remains one of the most unfortunately memorable dining experiences of my life.
That was until this year when I actively decided to get the fuck over it. Although I hate all those bloody acronyms, I was largely motivated by FOMO. It seemed that everyone else was always banging on about how amaaaaahzing it is so I felt like I was missing out, and I do hate to miss out on opportunities of culinary pleasure.
Of course now I’m totally digging on pig it’s the source of much mirth to my friends and family that I’ve seen the light. I’m like a sinner who’s found God, but in a pig. And now I can’t stop singing it’s praises and trying to convert everyone else I come across. Praise be to pork, can I get an Amen?!
Pornographically Good Pulled Pork
This meal was a true labour of love. Over 12 hours of love from the time it went in the pan until the time it (finally!) hit my plate. But before you think ‘screw this, I don’t have 12 hours to piss around with pork’, the actual time when I was required to do anything very demanding with it was minimal. Once it was in the oven there was the odd bit of basting and turning, the real hard work was in waiting until dinnertime to eat it but it was definitely worth the wait.
When I was making my flavour selections I had that deep, rich, slightly spicy and smoky real American BBQ style in mind but you can play around with the spices to suit yourself.
Get this stuff
Approx 500 grams of pork, skin and visible fat removed
I used scotch fillet simply because I’d scored one cheap at the grocers but shoulder, rump or any big lump of meat will work; the fact that you’re cooking it so long and slow will make it meltingly tender regardless so you probably don’t want to sacrifice a prime cut to the cause.
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 onion roughly chopped, red or white is fine
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly smashed down with a knife
2 t fresh ginger grated
1 whole chilli roughly chopped
2 t mesquite powder – this isn’t essential if you’re finding it difficult to get but it does have a lovely smoky caramel taste and aroma that adds to the depth of that smoky American BBQ flavour I was going for
2t smoked paprika
1 t oregano
1 t thyme
1 generous T of honey, rice malt syrup or coconut sugar
1-2 small lemons cut in half
1 t of orange zest or a few rind peelings
1-2 cups of stock, I used vegetable but whatever you have on hand will do the job
2-4 bay leaves
Salt, pepper & sugar to season
I used coconut sugar as it has a far lower GI rating than other sweeteners including maple syrup and honey so it’s a great option if you’re trying to kick a sugar demon and it’s also paleo approved.
Do this with it
First up you need to season your lump o’ pork with salt, pepper and some sugar, you don’t need heaps just enough to give it a good rubbing all over. If it’s possible you want to start the night before or at least a few hours prior to cooking to give it all a chance to sink in. I did this before bed and at 6:30am the next morning I was in the kitchen, pork in hand ready to go. Yep, I was that excited by it. No, not really, I have a child who is a freakishly reliable 5:30am alarm clock. Not her most endearing habit but on the bright side it means I get all that extra productive time in a day to do strange things like cook meat before dawn.
But I digress – back in the kitchen, turn your oven on to about 100 degrees to heat. Now, this is another of my more challenging recipes so pay very close attention here – take all of the ingredients on the list, shove them in a big oven proof pot with a lid and put it on the stove on a med-high heat. The goal here is to start the cooking process so you only need it on there for about 20-30 minutes to get it bubbling and steaming away. Once you’ve got a little porky party going on the pot put it in the oven and walk away… for about an hour or so anyway.
From there it really doesn’t need much attention; I turned and basted it in the sauce hourly-ish, partly to keep it nice and moist but also because I was impatient to see what was going on in there. When I turned it at about 11am, four hours into cooking time, it started falling apart I had a happy feeling I was onto a good thing here. I turned the oven down to 80 degrees and left it until midday for a total cooking time of around five hours. The ‘pulled’ bit is where you shred the meat with a couple of forks so it should be cooked to the point where it’s buttery soft and gives you very little resistance as you pull it apart.
Now this is how you take the flavour in the meat to the next level. Shred it all relatively finely and stir it back through the sauce in the bottom of the pot which will now have reduced to a thick and super-succulent pool of flavour. Put the lid on and if you have time shove it back it the still warm oven to just hang out in all those juices for a while. If you don’t have time for this bit it’s not a major, your meat is still going to be ah-freakin-mazing to eat right now – I know, I sampled it, several times.
When dinnertime rolled around all I had to do was put it back on the stove on a med-low heat for about 10 minutes to get it warm and bubbling.
The richness and depth of flavour was just crying out for hearty comfort food style accompaniments so I served it on a bed of creamy cauliflower and celeriac puree and some roasted leek and brussels sprouts. The puree is one of my favourite dishes and I swear it would convert even the most stoic mashed potato lover. Simply steam the cauli and celeriac until it’s soft and throw it all in the blender with some salt, pepper and a little knob of butter until you have a lovely velvety texture.
All piled together it was a steaming bowl of sexy, spicy, meat-filled heaven. Yes that does sound like some sort of cheap porno description, which is probably quite apt for the almost inappropriate level of pleasure that was taken in consuming this meal! Ain’t no shame in groaning over sensational meat.