Thursday, January 21, 2010

Birthday fun (with pork)

January 9th marked the 24th year in a row of my existence on this earth, and, also, marked the second year in a row that I chose to celebrate the occasion by feeding a huge, slow-roasted hunk of pork to my friends. For my potluck dinner/birthday party this year, I stuck with pork shoulder because it's a) ridiculously cheap, b) ridiculously easy to make, and c) feeds a ridiculously large number of people. Plus, it's a delicious cut of meat that fills your apartment (and stairwell, and foyer) with a heady, tantalizing, rich aroma during the six to seven hours it spends basting in its own porky juices in your oven. I don't keep many traditions, but I like the fact that one of the few that I observe involves consuming a large section of a pig once yearly.

So I had the pork shoulder, and I prepared it much the same way as the pernil that I made last year, marinating it overnight in a potent blend of chopped garlic and onion, chili powder, olive oil and vinegar. The next day, I slow-roasted it at 300° for, well, the entire day. But after that, all bets were off. I was serving pork shoulder again, but I wanted to mix up my preparation. I decided to convert the pernil into southern-style barbecued pulled pork. I mean, how can you go wrong with that? (Answer: you cannot.) So after six or seven hours when the pork shoulder emerged from my oven glistening with crispy fatty crackling and virtually melting off the bone, I pulled off great big hunks of meat, and, with almost no effort needed at all, shredded them up into long, soft strands. I piled these into a big heavy pot, then folded in a sweet, smokey, homemade BBQ sauce as well as (shhh) a healthy ladle of pork fat drippings that I had rescued from the bottom of the roasting tray. I then turned on the heat again, though this time on top of the stove, letting the pork cook into the sauce over a low heat for about an hour. The pork came out just as I had hoped: moist, tender, and full of sweet and slightly spicy flavor:

And let's not forget the cornbread. After all, what's a southern barbecue without cornbread?

If every year finds me surrounded by good friends and copious amounts of pork, the future looks like a bright one to me!

Southern-Style Barbecued Pulled Pork
Serves 12 - 15 (with leftovers)


1 pork shoulder, 8 to 10 pounds
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, quartered
2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. ancho or other mild chili powder
1 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil as needed
1 tbsp. wine or cider vinegar
1 recipe Sweet and Smokey BBQ Sauce (see below)
Reserved pork drippings, as needed

1. Score meat’s skin with a sharp knife, making a cross-hatch pattern. Pulse garlic, onion, oregano, paprika, chili, salt and pepper together in a food processor, adding oil in a drizzle and scraping down sides as necessary, until mixture is pasty. (Alternatively, mash ingredients in a mortar and pestle.) Blend in the vinegar.
2. Rub mixture into pork, getting it into every nook and cranny. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge. Let marinate for 12-24 hours.
3. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Remove plastic wrap from pork and place in a roasting pan, filling the bottom with about a half inch of water. Roast pork for as long as you can, or six to seven hours (you cannot really overcook it), covering the skin with foil if it starts to burn. Remove foil before cooking time is over to allow skin to crisp well.
4. Let meat rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then pull off pork cracklings (serve these with lime, hot sauce or both. You won't be disappointed). Using your hands, tear all pork meat off bone in big chunks. When all meat is removed from the bone, shred it into a large, heavy pot, using either your hands or two forks--either way, this is a messy job.
5. Fold in the majority of the homemade BBQ sauce, as well as a good ladleful of pork juice and drippings reserved from the bottom of the roasting pan. Cook, covered, over low heat, or until pork is completely soft and tender and has absorbed a good deal of the sauce, about 1 hour. Taste and add more BBQ sauce, drippings, or seasoning as needed.

Sweet and Smokey BBQ Sauce
Makes about 3 cups


2 cups ketchup
7 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. water
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
12 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sweet or smoked paprika
3/4 c. dark brown sugar or more, to taste
3 cloves garlic
2 chipotles en adobo plus 2 tbsp. adobo sauce
1 tsp. salt
Ground pepper to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes or until sauce has thickened, stirring often to prevent burning and adding more water as necessary.
2. Puree until smooth with a stick blender. Taste for seasoning, adding more brown sugar or salt as necessary.

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from
Makes 1 loaf


1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. yellow cornmeal
1/4 c. sugar
1 c. milk
1 large egg
1 sticks (1/2 c.) unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Place several small pats of butter into a large cast iron skillet and place skillet in the oven. (If you do not have a cast iron skillet, butter a large, shallow glass baking dish and set it aside.)
2. Melt remaining butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
3. In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cornmeal and sugar.
4. In another bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Batter will be thin.
5. Remove skillet from oven and pour in the batter. Place in middle of oven and bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 35 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and cool on a wire rack.