I should preface this one by noting that I’m sick today. Part cold, part sore throat, part achy dopiness. Which is why I kind of screwed up some key parts of this recipe.
If you look below at the recipe, you’ll see it calls for 5lbs of pork shoulder.
On Monday afternoon, when I bought and initially prepared the piece of pork, I didn’t look at the size or weight or cut. I just bought a reasonably sized piece, fit for a household where one person doesn’t really eat meat (me) and the other doesn’t really like pork (Doug). However, I really like the pulled pork sandwich at Boxing Cat Brewery (about 80rmb) and thought it would be worth attempting at home.
This is what I bought.
This is a, um, ‘pork leg butt sk–‘, whatever that is. It is certainly not a shoulder.
This is about a pound, or half a kilo. Not 5 pounds. No.
Did I make a note of that when I prepared the spice rub? No.
Did I even think about it when preparing the marinade and veggies for the crock pot? No.
But you know what? Even though I super-sized the seasoning, it turned out just fine. Better than fine, actually. It was lovely.
I’m not very well versed in cooking meat. I have a few dishes that I’ve been working on in the 8 or so years since I gradually stopped being a vegetarian. Pork never figured in any of them, as I was living in Turkey for most of that time and pork was barely legal there.
To get a few thin slices of rare and pricey prosciutto back in 2005, I used to have to trudge down to the lone Armenian butcher who was licensed to own pigs and to sell piggy things, in his tiny little deli in a rather rough neighbourhood in Istanbul, at the bottom of the Tarlabaşı hill. He was hidden behind a gas station, semi-ironically located not far from the site of the Dolapdere neighbourhood annual Kurban bayramı sheep-killing depot.
Here in Shanghai, pork is the meat of choice. The beef is pretty leathery and often waterlogged. The chicken is meh. I don’t care for duck or pigeon or bull frog.
I thought I’d see what I could do with pork. It just makes sense.
I had no idea how to prepare southern style pulled pork. I’ve done shredded beef and chicken in soups and stews but that isn’t quite the same. I needed that slow cooked, vinegary barbecued effect. I looked up a few recipes online but they all said impractical ridiculous things like ‘add barbecue sauce’ as if I could just go out and buy it. Ha!
Then I found this one.
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper [added 2 by accident, and 1 tsp Sichuan numbing peppercorn]
- 5 lbs pork shoulder [mine was, um, 1lb?]
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper
- 2 red onions, quartered
- 2 yellow onions, quartered
- combine the brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper, and rub the mixture over the roast. wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate a few hours, overnight is best.
- in a bowl, combine the vinegar, worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. mix well.
- place the quartered onions in the bottom of the crock pot. unwrap the roast, and place on top of onions. drizzle most of the vinegar mix over the roast, reserving some to add to the shredded meat at the end.
- cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours, or high for 4 to 5 hours.
- remove the meat and onions to a cutting board. remove skin and set aside. using two forks (or your fingers, if you have asbestos hands), pull and shred the pork. chop the onions, and mix into the shredded meat. using a fork, remove some of the fat from under the skin, mince, and add to the shredded meat and onions as needed for moisture and flavor.
- serve on warm buns or crusty hard rolls, with the remaining vinegar mixture on the side.
Let me show you what I did and what I ended up with. It’s well worth a try.
This part I did about a day or so before. I followed their directions, though instead of regular paprika I used a combination of smoked Spanish paprika, cayenne and ground up Sichuan peppercorns (about 3 tsp altogether), mixed with dark brown sugar, salt and ground black pepper. I accidentally doubled the black pepper.
Rub it all in and cover the meat with a plastic bag and let it sit in the fridge for at least a few hours.
I don’t know if you could use Chinese rice or dumpling vinegars in this recipe but I suppose it could work. I managed to find a red wine vinegar so I used it, as this was my first time attempting this. I didn’t want to improvise too much.
In the vinegar marinade, I used grainy mustard not spicy brown mustard. Also, I used cayenne rather than red pepper flakes.
I put it on high for the first hour to get it going, then put it down to low for about 5 more hours.
Sometime around noon, around the 4th hour, Doug came home for lunch with a card from the post office that had been left outside the door, telling me to come pick up a package. The pick up address was in hastily scrawled Chinese characters. Thinking it was for the one just up the street, I went out to go get it, assuming I’d be back in maybe 20 minutes. I was back about an hour and a half later.
I had to ask a number of people along the way, including the lovely Fiona who was buying bananas from a cart parked near the entrance to her home, and popped into a few different Post Office branches along Huai Hai Zhong Lu before I finally found it, across from the Shanghai library. It was well worth the trek.
Hobnobs and Irish tea! How awesome is that?
Anyway, when I got back around 2:30, the pork had melted perfectly into the onions and pepper and the vinegar had evaporated enough to make it all a wonderfully sludgy melange. Even though I’d totally screwed up the proportions, it somehow still worked.
I unplugged the crock pot and went off to the kitchen to make myself something bread-like to eat the pork with.
People, I want to introduce you to my new favourite stand-by. The Lady-Noodle chapati. The recipe is from Fiona’s trip to Xinjiang a few weeks ago, and it’s technically a pulled-noodle dough, akin to the Lanzhou lamian dough. And it works quite nicely for noodles, as I’ve already discovered, using my hand-cranked pasta maker.
However, I discovered a secret use for it!
Yes, those 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of salt and one cup of water make not only Lady Noodles but also Indian flatbreads!
In brief: in bowl, mix the above ingredients together into a rough ball. Turn it out onto a clean counter or cutting board. Knead it for 5-10 minutes until it feels like a cross between plasticine and a baby’s bottom. Do not despair when, for the first few minutes, it seems as if it’s just an uncooperative crumbly dough beast, shedding large flakes of floury dough. Keep shoving the floury dough bits back into the ball and knead it until it submits.
It does get better.
When it feels lovely and elastic and smooth, form it into a neat round ball, rub a little oil on it and let it sit for an hour or so covered in a plastic baggie to rest. Then, cut it up into smaller dough balls. This recipe gives about 6 rather large chapatis, suitable for wraps or burritos or whatever.
I keep a plastic bag of the raw dough balls in the fridge to haul out whenever I need fresh bread. They last 2 or 3 days, easily, and take just a few minutes to roll out and cook. Like convenience food, ‘cept better.