Earlier this week Will expressed an interest in driving around the USA. This is an interest his father has also has, except he wanted to do it in an RV. This is not quite my idea of a vacation. As I rolled it around in my head though, I did start thinking about a few parts of America that had three things I go crazy over. Good music, good booze, and good food. Savannah, Georgia sprung to mind as a place that always has a famous restaurant by a new up and coming chef. Had we not been able to afford Dublin, Will and I had talked about heading out to Sonoma, California and returning with a few cases of wine, and I've always been interested by the music scene that is Chicago. There was one part of the country that has all three of the elements I desired, and within a few hours I had filled Will's email box with articles about a drag of road called Highway 61, Music highway.
It's a connecting highway between Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana. I had already built a fantasy around it that involved renting a pickup truck, pulling on my cowboy boots, and cruising down stopping for Blues, Bluegrass, Barbecue, and Bourbon. However, it is January, not the ideal time of year for doing said cruising, though I'm sure it's warmer down there then it is up here right now. Also I have a job, one that would not appreciate an email saying, "Sorry, can't come in this week, searching for the home of Muddy Waters and the perfect shot of Rye." The trip, though I am determined to take it, must be delayed until I can actually plan it, request the vacation time, and let the weather improve. Damn my lack of spontaneity.
The ideas however, would not stop plaguing me this week. I downloaded a huge album of bluegrass music, and ordered a CD of blues. (Has anyone listed to a CD from the "I heard it on NPR" series?) While writing Friday's blog, I sat there with a glass of Ezra Brooks in hand. Finally the siren call of barbecue could no longer be ignored. I needed slow cooked meat. I needed it bad. I remembered the sandwich I had to quest for at the Big Apple Barbecue last year, the sandwich I had stood in line for over an hour to get. I fantasized about the brilliance that is a great pulled pork sandwich.
This, I discovered, was easier said then done. First was my complete lack of a smoker, a place to put a smoker, or a way to deal with the smoke. Apartment living strikes again. It seemed, through, that every cookbook I owned with a section for slow cookers included a section for a pulled pork sandwich. Not exactly the authenticity of standing by a fire pit south of the Mason Dixon line for eight hours, but I was desperate. These recipes differed in everything from cut of meat to sauce, one even included root beer as a main ingredient. What would I have to do to recreate the experience of that exceptional lunch over six months ago?
I launched into research, and it turns out, Pulled Pork has two distinct schools of thought, having to do with whether you are dealing with the East side of the Carolinas or the West (and you thought North and South were all you had to worry about.) In the East, you'd get a vinegar based sauce, which is spicier, where in the West, it tends toward tomato based sauce, which is sweeter (and usually still includes vinegar, just to be confusing.) I looked up the website of the place that had sold me the elusive pulled pork, Black Jack Barbecue. It turns out they sell their sauces, and there was a barbecue... and a cider. Crap.
Sweeter was the operative word for me, I remember as what sticks out in my memory was a sweet, tangy flavor. Ingredients jumped out like Molasses and Brown Sugar. I decided tomato based was my kind of barbecue. I briefly considered ordering the sauce, and getting the exact sauce I remembered, but A of all, this seemed like a cop out, and B of all I would have had to wait for shipping, and pay $8 for it. No, if I was gong to do this, I was going to do it right. Working mostly from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook, I worked on my perfect West Carolinas barbecue sauce.
The SauceIngredients:4 Tbsp Vegetable Oil2 Onions, Minced2 Garlic Cloves, Minced2 Tsp Chili Powder1 3/4 Cup Ketchup1/2 Cup Light or Dark Molasses2 Tbsp Light Brown Sugar1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar1/4 Cup Worcestershire1/4 Cup Dijon Mustard2 Tsp TabascoSalt and PepperDirections:Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chili powder and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the the sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool to room temperature before serving, about 1 hour. (Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months)
I ended up with about three cups of sauce, and tossed it in the the refrigerator overnight next to the nearly four pound pork shoulder I had spent a small fortune on earlier in the day. I went to Dickson's Farmstand Meats, one of the "Rock Star" butcher shops invading Manhattan, but my thought was if I was going to make that much meat I was going to have it be the good stuff. They were exceptionally cool to me, I ordered the pork shoulder, and they didn't have it in the case so my sales person trotted over to the butchering area to have it cut for me. He asked if I wanted it tied. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, and in nicer terminology, told him so. I explained this was my first time buying a shoulder. Saying this in a very nice butcher shop felt tantamount to walking into a record store and asking who the Beatles are. He was very nice about it though, and asked me how I was preparing it. When I told him pulled pork, he smiled and said he would take care of me. You get what you pay for. I went home with a gorgeous 3.75 pound shoulder, neatly tied, locally sourced. I was getting excited.
Slow Cooker Pulled PorkIngredients:3-4 Pound Pork Shoulder3 Cups Barbecue Sauce of ChoiceSalt and PepperCider VinegarDirections:Heat large skillet over medium high. Place in shoulder fat side down, then brown on all sides. While browning, pour half of sauce into slow cooker. Once browned, remove pork from skillet and place into slow cooker. Pour remainder of sauce on top. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or on high for 4 to 6 hours. (I went with the slower route) Once the meat is fully cooked, remove to cutting board or platter. With two forks, tear meat into shreds (or pull the pork apart, as it were.) Toss meat with sauce from the slow cooker. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with cider vinegar if desired. Serve shredded meat on hamburger rolls with your favorite cole slaw, either on the side or on top of the pork.
When it came time to take the meat out of the slow cooker, it was falling apart. Success! I loaded it into a foil roasting pan, and proceeded to rip it apart. I took a preliminary taste, and nearly fell over. It was juicy and tender and amazing. With a big kitchen spoon I started spooning on the sauce, three spoonfuls to start with. My eyes rolled back in my head. I kept spooning until I felt I had achieved the Nirvana like status that this meat called for. Will wouldn't stop comparing the dish to porn. Three sandwiches later he collapsed on the couch with a satisfied and deeply impressed smile. I think we have found his new favorite dish. What is it with boys and barbecue?
I did miss the smokiness that comes from sticking a huge cut of meat in a cabinet built specifically to cook pork, but for an apartment in Queens I think I came as close to authentic barbecue as one could, and it was knee buckling good. To get "the real deal" I think I'm going to have to rent that pickup truck and head towards Dixie. Epicurette in Memphis has a nice ring to it...