Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Best pulled pork yet

No witty titles on this one, I am getting down to business.

We love pulled pork over here. Pork is our meat of choice, since we are recent converts and need to make up for lost time. Like many others, as children we were introduced to pork as "the other white meat", "other" indicating that it is dry, leathery and either tasteless or weird-tasting, and overall, rather unappetizing. (that being said, chicken was often dry and stringy, so it's a lost cause either way).

My conversion began about 9 years ago, during my 3rd year of grad school. One of my friends was engaged and she and her fiance bought a condo (incidentally, right next door to one of our other friends, which meant we all knew how to find her new place!). This friend happened to be marrying an excellent cook, which was great for her, and also for all of us (although less often). He cooked a few of us dinner one night, and the dinner was salad, pork tenderloin, smashed potatoes, onion cherry compote, and green beans. I am too polite to say, ugh I hate potatoes and pork. Instead, I helped myself to a huge portion of green beans and minimal amounts of pork and potatoes. Then I actually tasted the pork and had to go back for 2nds and 3rds. You see, this was my first introduction to properly cooked pork.

Brian pan seared the pork and then baked it, then used the drippings in the pan to saute onions and make a sauce/compote thing, adding dried cherries. AMAZING. It was so simple, I believe he cooked the entire thing before I finished my glass of wine (and I drank quickly in those days, my friends, as I was only 23). The key was not overcooking it. A slightly, barely pink center is good, that's what you want. If it's white all the way through, it's overdone and will be leathery. But I never knew this! I copied his recipe many times after that, and then started branching out to my own pork recipes.

But ever since, I keep pork tenderloins on hand. They're just so easy! Season, sear, bake til they're around 150, voila! What, like 15 minutes?

So, pork. Today's recipe doesn't use a pork tenderloin though, but tenderloins were the gateway pork for me. Ok I really only buy tenderloins, loins or chops (bone in or boneless), I don't get adventurous with other cuts (mostly because I don't know how to properly cook them, and I don't want to waste a lot of money on meat that I might screw up). I do use a variety of cooking methods for this small selection of cuts.

We're fans of pulled pork (I think the first time I had pulled pork was maybe in 2004 or 2005? Again, anti-pork before that, like, completely and entirely. What was wrong with me?!). Being a recent convert to pulled pork, I don't have any sort of stand-by pulled pork recipe to fall back on, so I have to search for good ones. In the past, I've found decent ones, but the stuff you get at a bbq place is always far better than mine.

Until last night!

I found this recipe on tastespotting (as usual). Clint voted for pulled pork because we had an ancient, freezer-burned 3lb pork loin in the freezer dated 2009. I'm sure some people would not have eaten it, but maybe it's my Yankee upbringing that turns wasting food into a mortal sin, I decided pulled pork would be a good way to use it. Braising is often the cooking style of choice for tougher meats, and the medium/low, slow cooking made me more confident that it would be thoroughly cooked and safe to eat. I did not time this ideally, I started thawing it in room temp water around 11am, and I kind of forgot about it until 2, so by the time I started looking for recipes, I had about 4 hours in which to prepare this. Most of the recipes I found wanted 8-10 hours in the crock pot, but I didn't have 8-10 hours. I'm still not good at converting crock pot times to oven times, but the recipe I found had all of the above, including 3 hours in the oven at 300F. Due to sewing machine malfunctions, it braised for 3.5 hours.

Not only was it thoroughly cooked and safe (18 hours later, I'm still fine), it was delicious. This, my friends, is my go-to recipe for pulled pork. The sauce is a very simple but flavorful affair of maple (be still, my heart!), bourbon (even better!) and other deliciousness. It takes about 2 minutes to put the sauce together, then you plop the pork in an oven-safe pot, pour the sauce over, and bake/braise. Then you pull it, reduce the sauce, and serve. It took us a total of 4 hours, but in the end, the hardest part was pulling the pork (it was hard to get it out of the pot because it kept falling apart, but when pulling it, it keeps sticking to the forks and is annoying. I always nominate Clint to do that part.)

Oh yeah, and I recommend keeping track of what's in your freezer, so you don't end up with 3 year old pork loins like we did.

Maple Bourbon Pulled Pork
recipe from I Adore Food.

1 pork loin, about 2-3 lbs, trimmed of fat and connective tissue
1/2 cup maple syrup
3T bourbon
3T cider vinegar
3T whole grain mustard
2T soy sauce
1/4t cloves
a few grinds of black pepper
1 onion, cut into slices
3 garlic cloves, minced (I actually just smashed these and tossed them in, I'm a little lazy when it comes to mincing garlic)

Note: I omitted the salt, since I was using regular sodium soy sauce and it was fairly salty in the end.

In a bowl (or the pot you're going to use), whisk together the liquids and spices. Put the pork in the pot, and if the sauce is in a separate bowl, pour over the pork. Otherwise, roll the pork around in the sauce to coat on all sides.

Cover the pot and stick in a 300F oven. Braise for 3hours (or more, if you get distracted by the feed dogs on your sewing machine not working), turning the pork over every 45-60 minutes or so.

Remove from oven. Place pork into a bowl, let it cool a bit, then start shredding with two forks. It should be tender enough that it starts falling apart while you're trying to move it (this makes moving it difficult, but it's a sign that it's nicely done). Meanwhile, reduce the sauce (this part is very easy if your baking pot is something like Le Creuset or another stovetop-to-oven material) over medium-high heat until it's nicely thickened.

Mix some or all of the sauce with the shredded pork.

Serve the pork on a roll with some extra sauce over the meat (what I do), or mix all the sauce with the pork and serve on a roll or just on your plate.

I used a 2lb pork loin and got 8 generous helpings for approximately
308 calories, 9.4g fat, 15.4g carbs, 0.3g fiber and 34g protein per serving. Nooot great, but delicious enough to justify it.

But wait, there's more!

I've also been on the hunt for a good slaw recipe. I'm an even more recent convert to cole slaw. I'm not big on mayo, so up til about a year ago, I always avoided cole slaw. But then I had some really delicious cole slaw at The Publick House in Sturbridge, MA (I think they add pineapple) and I started eating cole slaw if it was an option. Clint, however, won't do mayo, so I keep looking for mayo-free slaw recipes, with little luck til now. One interesting version was an asian slaw using fish sauce, which was good the first day, but.... kind of rotten-fishy after that.

Yesterday I was in luck, because I found this delicious apple slaw. I also finally cut the cabbage properly so it's not impossible to chew.

Apple-Cabbage Slaw
recipe from Food Opera

1/2 head of red cabbage
2-3 apples, grated or thinly sliced

1 apple, peeled and cored and quartered
3T rice vinegar
1.5T olive oil
1T lime juice
1/2t brown sugar

Remove the core from the bottom of the cabbage. Slice on a mandoline, and slice to that the core side is flat on the mandoline, to get nice, thin strips. Add the grated/sliced apple.

In a blender or food processor, combine all the dressing ingredients. Blend til you get a nice puree (look below, it's kind of like applesauce). Adjust flavorings if necessary (it wasn't for us), then add to the cabbage and apple and toss.

you can see the dressing in the middle, very applesauce-like!
This is so crisp and delicious! I love the sweet, vinegary appleyness of it. We each had 2 servings last night- 2 big servings.

This makes 8 generous servings, 92 calories, 2.8g fat, 17.6g sugar, 3.3g fiber and 1.1g protein (approx) per serving.

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