Pulled pork – it sounds a bit fancy, exotic even, and hard to make. It’s not, on all counts. Because what could be simpler than roasting a piece of pork real low and slow until the meat is so soft it can be pulled intro strands with two forks? That really is basically it folks.
Pulled pork is quintessential American barbeque food. Done properly, it’s slow roasted in an oven fired by, well, fire. It’s deep and rich and smokey.
Recipes for pulled pork are legion. Most involve rubbing the meat with a mixture of spices and even some herbs. Paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne, mustard, thyme, cinnamon, fennel, honey… they’re all in there somewhere. The idea is not just to enhance the flavour, but most particularly to play up its smokey barbeque qualities. Some folks even use liquid smoke for this. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, EXCEPT… the very best pulled pork comes from the shoulder and pigs are not exactly what I’d call small. So unless you’re throwing a party for twenty, you’re going to be stuck with a LOT of leftover meat, all of it with the same flavour profile.
This is why I leave well enough alone, choosing instead to rub in the uncooked shoulder with just a bit of salt and brown sugar. I end up with tons of luscious moist pulled pork that I freeze in manageable portions. Come a busy weeknight, I haul it out, nuke it for thirty second to warm through, add some bits and bobs and have a pretty rocking dinner on the table in under twenty. Here it is, my foolproof way to cook pulled pork along with five killer ways of dressing it up post roasting!
All you need is…
1 shoulder of pork, skin removed
2 tbs salt
2 tbs soft dark brown sugar
two large onions
1 cup water
Quarter the onions and place them in the bottom of a large roasting tray. Mix the salt and sugar and rub it into the pork. Place the pork on top of the onions. Add the water, cover well with tinfoil and place in a 140-degree Celsius oven. Roast for 6-8 hours until the pork is fall-off-the-bone soft. Check it from time to time to see if it needs a touch more water. Remove and allow to cool slightly, then use two forks to pull the pork into long strands. That which you’re not using within a day or two can be frozen in individual or family-size portions.
Recipe 1: Barbeque pulled pork
Reduce the leftover cooking liquid until there is only a cup left. Mix it with a cup of store-bought barbeque sauce (a smoked barbeque sauce is even better) and stir in the pulled pork. Serve piled high on rolls (I especially like kitke rolls for this). Top with a slaw made of finely sliced red cabbage, radish and celery as well as grated carrot tossed lightly with olive oil and a dash of red wine vinegar. Serve with extra barbeque sauce on the side.
Recipe 2: Tex-Mex pulled pork
Fry finely sliced red onion, red and yellow peppers and garlic in plenty of olive oil until soft. Top a wrap with the peppers, spoon on the pulled pork, then top with a generous dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of smoked paprika, finely sliced red chilli and fresh coriander. Roll it up and tuck in. If you’re feeling extra energetic, whip up some guacamole too.
Recipe 3: Chinese pulled pork
Mix the pulled pork with generous quantities of store-bought sweet and sour sauce. Wellington’s makes a lovely, affordable one. Serve with finely sliced spring onion and red chilli, shredded butter lettuce, coriander leaves and finely sliced batons of pineapple on rolls, in pita or in wraps.
Recipe 4: Vietnamese pulled pork
If you’ve never worked with rice paper wraps, you’re in for a real treat here. Find these beauties at specialist Asian supermarkets or even normal supermarkets that have their act together. Rice paper wraps are rock hard and semi see-through, almost glass-like. But a soak in water for a few seconds (follow the instructions on the box) turns them soft, pliable and white. Drain the wrappers and in the centre of each place: pulled pork, finely sliced spring onion, coriander, red chilli, cucumber ribbons, roughly chopped toasted peanuts or cashews and pickled ginger (also sold in the Asian section of your supermarket). Tuck in the ends and roll it closed. Serve the rice wrapper spring rolls with a store-bought sweet chilli dipping sauce.
Recipe 5: Greek pulled pork
Stuff a toasted pita pocket with pulled pork, finely sliced red onion, shredded butter lettuce and sliced baby tomatoes. Spoon on a very generous dollop of home-made tzatziki and tuck in.
If you ware having twenty mates over, why not serve the shoulder whole on a pretty large platter and let each one pull their own? OK that doesn’t sound quite right, but you know what I mean. Set up ‘country’ stations – barbeque, Tex-Mex, Chinese with all their associated bits and bobs and let your guests go mad. If you do this, you’ll want to gussy the shoulder up some. Once it’s cooked, simply paint it with a mixture of two tablespoons wholegrain mustard mixed with two tablespoons honey and one tablespoon of the cooking liquid. Place the shoulder under a hot grill for a few minutes to allow it to caramelize some and it will be way more attractive. I really do only bother with this pretty bit if I intend to serve it whole.