Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pulled Magical Animal. Mmmm...

From the Simpsons Episode where Lisa decides to become a vegetarian:

Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

      Culinarily speaking,  pigs truly are a magical animal. No other creature yields so many useful, delicious products. (It truly is a cruel god who would put them here and then forbid their consumption. But I digress...) Without a doubt though, pulled pork is one of the finest ways to consume that most magical beast. The beauties of pulled pork are many. It's cheap, it's easy, it keeps for ever, it's a great way to use pork that might be almost off, since you are going to cook it so long, in so much acid and sugar, that it can save an almost spoiled piece of meat from the bin. And of course, it's delicious.

       One of the nicest things about PP is that it really only requires two ingredients, pork and BBQ sauce. I'll use a lot more here, but anything else I mention can be skipped if you don't happen to have it.

 1 Pork Shoulder (these are usually 4-6 lbs) (You can use something else, but I find the shoulder has the right mix of fatty and lean meat, and the joint bone makes the meat that much more tender.)
1 Large Bottle (40 oz) BBQ sauce ( I use Sweet Baby Ray's)
2 Medium Onions
4-6 Cloves of Garlic
Spoonful of Fennel Seed, Mustard Seed and Whole Black Peppercorns
Kosher Salt
1 Pint of Reduced Chicken Stock, (or a quart of that store-bought crap, low sodium only)
1 Bottle of Decent Beer
Frank's Red Hot

      The only drawback to PP is that to do it right it takes a looonnng time. If you want it ready for the 1pm games on Sunday, you really need to start it Saturday by noon. Trying to speed it up yields an inferior product and makes the time you spent worthless.

      Open the beer. Don't drink it all.

      Rinse the shoulder in cold water and give it a good amount of salt all over (remember this is much thicker than say, a chicken breast, so you need at least twice as much on the surface for it to penetrate to the interior). Put a small amount of Olive Oil in a large pot (big enough to hold the shoulder with at least an inch or two to spare) and turn the pan onto High. When the oil is just starting to smoke (don't let it burn) place the shoulder in, fat side down. Leave the pan on high keep turning the piece every few minutes until each side is a golden, caramel-brown. (If you accidentally burn a section, trim it off, the blackened section will add a bitter flavor to everything else in the pot).

      While the pork is searing, (or ahead of time, if you don't trust yourself) rough chop one of the onions and 2-3 of the cloves of garlic. Put them in when the pork has only one or two sides left to go. Sweat them until they are soft (never let garlic burn, if it does, take it out and chop more, trust me, it's worth it). When the pork is browned and the onions and garlic are sweat, add the remainder of the beer (or what you're willing to part with). Let the alcohol boil out (alcohol boils at 173 degrees F, so once the liquid is boiling, the booze is gone), which will smell pretty bad, but don't worry. Now, add the chicken stock if you have it, and then water until the shoulder is covered by an inch (make sure it isn't floating when you determine this). Add the seeds and peppercorns. Let the whole thing come up to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer.

       Wait 6 hours. Seriously. At least. The pork is done when you can pull meat off it with a fork with very little effort. Now, depending on what time of day it is, you can do several things. If you still have 4-6 hours before bed, you can finish it right now. If not, let the whole thing cool then put it in the fridge, or if it is January in Maine, put it out on your enclosed back porch, with a cover, where the dog can't get it.

      When you're ready to finish it, clean a large work area that you can get pretty messy. With a couple of kitchen tools (a chef's knife, spatulas, BBQ forks, tongs, whatever) lift the pork out and set it on a cutting board or in a large bowl. SAVE THE LIQUID. Strain it through a colander (or something with smaller holes if you have it) into a large sauce pan, put on the stove on HIGH, and let it boil. If you have a three-year old daughter, now is the time to get her a chair and let her learn about food textures. You should be able to shred the meat very easily with your fingers, or a fork, if you are a total sissy. In this age of peel and nuke food, many people are made uncomfortable by the feeling of animal fat squeezing between their fingers, but your kid will love it, and they might not grow up to be quite as big a wuss as most of us are. Put the shredded meat in a bowl (or the same one, to save on dishes) and make sure there are no peppercorns mixed in since they are rough on the tooth.

       Thinly slice the other Onion and dice the Garlic. Put them into another large pot, big enough to hold all the meat (or clean the one you used before) with a little Olive Oil. Sweat until they are soft, same as before. Add the meat, a cup or so of the juice from the other pan (let the rest keep reducing separately) and at least 3/4 of the bottle of BBQ sauce. Add a few splashes of Frank's, based on your taste. Stir together. Turn the whole thing up to High, then down to Low when it starts to boil.

      Wait 4 hours. Stir the pork occasionally, and let the braising liquid reduce until it is less than an inch in the pan. Add BBQ sauce, the braising liquid and Frank's as necessary to prevent it from drying out. When it is all done, you should be able to pick meat out with a fork and only have a few drops of liquid run off, it shouldn't be soupy, but it should never be dry enough to stick to the bottom of the pan if you are stirring it regularly. 

       Your Pulled Magical Animal is ready anytime once the liquid is thick as described above, but if you let it simmer with a cover for 3-5 hours, it will really be much better. At this point, all you need is some Good Bulky or Torpedo Rolls, Cheddar or Provolone, Pickles and Shredded Lettuce or Cole Slaw, depending on your taste. Serve with more beer and chips, while watching the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl. Enjoy.


  1. Now these are my kinda posts! While I'll admit that your previous posts begin to make my head hurt after awhile, I do plan on fully reading them because it's nice to read this type of writing and be able to hear the voice that goes with the opinion. If only it were in your living room with copious amounts of wine.... Keep up the good blogging!

  2. Thanks, Amy! I appreciate the kind words, and anyone making it to the end of any of those deserves some appreciation. The blog is mostly just a way to force myself to stay in the habit of writing, and to help me organize things kicking around in my head, but it makes it a little more worth it knowing anyone is reading!

  3. Hmm, Kelley and I were thinking about making some for Sunday.

  4. You know....I might be able to make this in Kathmandu. I could watch the Pats on my laptop and eat awesome PP and almost forget which part of the world I'm in. I've never given this a try, but this could be awesome. Thanks!

  5. Okay, so apparently more people care about recipes than philosophy... good to know : ).

    Well, do have plans to put some more basic recipes up here, since I have had requests for chicken stock and bread... but I'll try to get some more interesting stuff up here as well.

    Food is good. Mmm...

  6. I was just getting a feel to see if you had enough PP?? Back to back weekends? Bri guy nice to hear you're watching the Pats again.

  7. Whatever. PP is always good. It makes a lot of food, so it's only really worth it if you are having people over or if you plan on freezing it in smaller containers.