Cooking intrigues me for multifarious reasons, but chief among them is this: the learning process is endless. The opportunity for new challenges is endless. There will always a new ingredient to try, or a new technique to study. And even if you taste all the ingredients there are to taste, and try all the techniques there are to try (if such a thing is even possible), you would still be left with the enormous task of mixing and matching so many ingredients with so many techniques.
Learning to cook well takes time–this aspect of cooking at least is magic-less. The 700th clove of garlic you peel will naturally discard its coat more swiftly than the ones that came before it. You’ll sense vanilla custard is done now–right now, not thirty seconds from now, but now–without a thermometer only through exhaustive practice.
Writing a recipe requires imagination, yes, but imagination without context will lead you nowhere tasty in a hurry. The best recipes call upon knowledge assembled steadily over time. Like an unhurried braise, intuition in the kitchen is a gradually lacquered thing.
As a general rule, I approach the recipes on this blog as an excuse and an opportunity to play with unfamiliar techniques and ingredient combinations. Sometimes a technique leads and an ingredient follows, and sometimes it’s the reverse. In the case of this recipe, I found myself with a boon of ripe nectarines. Nectarines are less cloyingly sweet than peaches. I thought their muted acidity would balance well against a shot of vinegar, a mess of red onion, and a flurry of diced hot pepper. (If you’re in a bind, you can try this salsa with plums or peaches.)
Armed with the knowledge that spice and acidity cut straight through meat’s fattiness, I went hunting for the technique. I’d never made pulled pork before, although I have long been romanced by the idea of braising: low heat and time yielding spoon-soft results. I must credit The Pioneer Woman for helping me through the method on this, my first pulled pork.
This recipe takes time to execute, but it isn’t difficult. It isn’t fussy either. You’ll be forgiven ten minutes on either side of things. It can be made ahead and reheats well. I bet it would impress at a party, too.
Makes about 12 sandwiches
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon hot pepper paste
- 5-6 garlic cloves, divided, peeled
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon ground thyme
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4-pound Boston butt (pork shoulder)
- 1 small white onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 cups beef or veal stock
1. Rinse the pork, pat it dry, and set it on a cutting board. Check “the top” (the side with a layer of fat covering it); if the fat layer seems too thick, trim it down a little. Score the fat by cutting a diamond pattern; this will help the marinade better penetrate the meat, resulting in more flavor.
2. Add the following to a food processor: the mustard, the Worcestershire sauce, the hot pepper paste, 2-3 garlic cloves, the brown sugar, the oregano, the thyme, the paprika, the salt, the vinegar, and the olive oil. Press the “stir” button, and let the ingredients blend together, 30 seconds-1 minute. You want a loose paste.
3. Rub the marinade all over the Boston butt. Really get in there, on all sides, into every hidden space. (If you have the time, apply the marinade the night before. Cover and refrigerate overnight.)
4. Heat the oven to 325F.
5. Lift the Boston butt into a Dutch oven (or a heavy pot with a good lid). Peel and halve the carrots, and then peel and quarter the onion. Distribute the carrot pieces, the onion, and the remaining garlic around the Boston butt. Pour the stock on top of the vegetables.
6. Set the range to medium-high, and let the stock come to a boil. When it does, put the lid on and move the pot to the oven.
7. Remove the pot from the oven once an hour to flip the Boston butt. At this temperature, it should take about 1 hour per pound to cook. (For a more exact measurement, wait until your meat thermometer registers 190F-195F; mine only took 3 1/2 hours, so it’s always good to check. You’re looking for meat that falls away from the bone.) During the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, flip the Boston butt so that the “top” (the fat side) is facing up. Raise the oven temperature to 425F. Cook until the top becomes crispy and golden.
8. Take the pork out of the pot, and let it rest on a cutting board for 10-15 minutes. (You can lightly tent it with foil.)
9. The pan juices: During the last 10-15 minutes of cooking at 425F, I could see my pan juices happily boiling away and reducing. However, if you find yourself with an abundance of jus, you can further reduce the sauce on the stove top while your pork is resting. When it reaches the consistency of runny gravy, take it off the heat.
10. Run the juices and vegetables through a sieve, and then let the strained sauce rest in a cup or bowl for about 10 minutes, until the fat rises to the top. Remove as much of the fat as you can. Reserve the rest to pour over the pork, once it has been pulled apart.
11. After the pork has rested, use two forks to “pull” the meat apart. (It should come apart quite easily.) Discard any fatty bits, or gristle. If you like, save the bone for stock.
12. Return the pulled pork to a clean pot and pour the strained pan juices on top. Using tongs or a large spoon, gently toss the pork until the juice is evenly distributed.
The pork is ready. You can turn the range to the lowest setting to keep the pork warm as you serve. (I keep the lid on, to help prevent the pork from drying out.)
Stone Fruit Salsa
- 1 small red onion
- 1 serrano pepper
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 nectarines
1. Using a knife or mandolin, cut the red onion into thin slices. Seed and finely dice the serrano.
2. In a medium bowl, blend the lime juice with the honey, the white vinegar, and the olive oil. Add the red onion and the serrano, and stir to incorporate. Let the onion and the serrano sit in the liquid for 10-20 minutes.
3. Just before serving, slice up the nectarines however you like, and stir them into the onions and serrano.
Assemble the Sandwiches
I used small, toasted brioche rolls, but you can use any soft roll you like. Scoop some of the shredded pork onto the bottom layer of each sandwich. Finish with a spoonful of stone fruit salsa. Enjoy warm.