There are few things in this world that I love better than pork. Really, what is not to love? It is surely the most flavorful of our noble domestic beasts, and I would argue the most versatile. So much good can come from one healthy well-fed pig; so many amazing, delicious creations to sooth our appetites for hearty, rustic fare. Case in point: Pulled Pork.
I have always been a champion of the simple things; the uncomplicated things, the things that take time, a long time, to get right. Simple, elegant and versatile dishes with a few basic, exceptional ingredients prepared with the patience to follow through and make sure it comes out perfectly. And while some people might equate a long preparation and cooking time with a complicated dish, this Beer Braised Pulled Pork could not be simpler.
With only a handful of ingredients, the success of this dish has more to do with just leaving it alone happily bubbling away rather than constantly fussing over it like a Thanksgiving turkey. Once it gets started just let the magic happen while it fills your house with amazing aromas.
Beer Braised Pulled Pork
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4- to 4-1/2-pound pork butt (The original recipe calls for boneless pork butt, but that can be a little bit more expensive than bone-in. Also, the bone gives it a certain, something extra, and is super super easy to take out when the pork is done.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 medium garlic cloves, smashed
2 medium habanero chiles, sliced into rounds
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
24 ounces brown ale (Newcastle works very well.)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Heat your oven to 300 degrees and arrange the rack in the middle. Combine salt, chili powder, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Coat pork butt with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, and the cover all sides with the spice mixture. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a dutch oven (our 5 1/2 quart worked perfectly.) Once oil is hot, add the pork and brown on all sides, about 15 mins total. Once browned, remove pork to a plate and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. (It works really well if you pour all of the fat out into a glass bowl and then spoon back in 1 tablespoon. You're welcome.)
Reduce heat to medium and add garlic, chiles and onions. Cook until soft and onions are translucent, about 10-15 minutes, frequently scraping the tasty bits from the bottom of the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high, and add the reserved pork and beer. (At this point, since you bought 2 16 oz bottles of Newcastle, you will have several ounces left over once everything has been added to the pot. Feel free to enjoy them with my compliments.) Bring everything to a boil.
Cover, transfer to the oven and cook until pork is tender and falls apart when shredded with a fork, about 3 hours. It will look a little something like this when it is done.
With tongs, separate the bone from the meat and discard. Carefully, very carefully, remove the pork from the liquid and place in a large glass bowl. Over another glass bowl, place a large strainer and pour the liquid and any remaining solids over the strainer. Allow as much liquid to pass through the solids in the strainer, using the back of a spoon to push it through. Once enough of the liquid has been strained, place the strained solids back into the pot. Reserve about 3 cups of the liquid, or certainly all of it if you plan to use it for another purpose. It is super flavorful and would make an amazing base for a gravy or stock.
Using forks, shred the pork and remove any large chunks of fat you find. Take your time with this, there is more than you think. Once you have discarded as much of the fat as you can and shredded the pork enough, place back into the pot with the strained solids.
With your reserved liquid, strain out the fat using a fat separator. Since I don't actually have a fat separator, I just used a spoon to slowly ladle out the liquid fat. It took a while, but it was worth it. It might be time to invest in a fat separator for next time, though.
The original recipe says to separate the liquid from the fat until you have just 1 cup of juice, but I had quite a bit more than that. No problems there, a little extra pork fat never hurt anyone, right? Add the cider vinegar and spoon the separated juice in generously, mixing with tongs as you go. Taste the pork frequently as you mix in the juice, stopping once the perfect balance of flavors is reached.
This being my first foray into the slow-cooked meats, I was impressed with how well this recipe came together. This pulled pork makes great sandwiches topped with just a dollop of guacamole, or on warm corn tortillas with a little cilantro and white onion. It was a deceptively simple recipe to prepare, and kept us well fed for several days afterwards.
Although I mangled this recipe around to accommodate lack of equipment and so on, thanks go to the good people at Chow.com for sending me this and many, many delightful recipes in my Inbox every morning. I hope you all have as much fun preparing this dish as I did, and as always, enjoy!