When Opposites Attract – A Pulled Pork Love Story
“To a chef, there is nothing more divine than the pig; except one garnished with watermelon.”
It’s been a long night on the hot line. We’re tired, but we all hustle to clean our stations, so we can grab a beer at Tin Lizzy’s before it closes. Dario grabs a scouring pad and a bucket of soapy water from the dish pit and starts soaping down all the stainless steel countertops on the line. We’re chatting, laughing, teasing each other, heckling the servers. It’s our way of releasing all that pent-up tension from service, almost done, the end in sight, breakdown, plastic wrap our mise en place, slap a label and date on, push each station’s speed rack in the cooler, go home!
Usually someone will take a few minutes to make a late-night Scooby snack. Chris our grill cook had a pancake fixation for about a month; so much so, it became ritual. Every night he’d clean off the flat top and ladle a couple of flapjacks large enough to cover a 10” plate. Pancakes at midnight with lots of syrup and butter – not a bad way for hungry line cooks to finish a night. An overcooked steak, a mere appetizer for a bunch of ravenous cooks, who tear it apart with dabs of chimichurri or ber-nasty (Béarnaise). Pizza fares a bit better, it takes time to get a perfect crust, charred around the edges with that crisp bite from a 600-degree pizza oven. Pizza is our ode to a stoner’s fantasy: marinara, fresh mozzarella, jalapeños, eggs cooked sunny-side up, arugula tossed in sriracha and olive oil. As long as the ingredients were handy, that was our late-night family meal.
Service is winding down and like a well-oiled machine the line switches into automatic breakdown-and-clean mode. There was no rhyme or thought behind pairing watermelon pico de gallo with the pulled pork featured in this post. In fact, the taco that served as the vessel for this concoction just happened to be on the short-order cook’s cutting board. Call it inspiration; Derek wanted a twist on pico de gallo to garnish his swordfish dish and I suggested watermelon instead of tomato. We decided to take it a step further and add fresh lime juice and tequila before zipping the cubes in a bag and cryovacing it. The Cryovac machine changes the texture of fruit with high water content like melons by compressing them. The fruit absorbs the flavor of other ingredients, the texture becomes denser, the color more vivid. To finish, he added a fine brunoise of red onion, a thin chiffonade of cilantro, diced jalapeño, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
That night we didn’t have much pulled pork left, just enough to fill half a deli container, just enough for a couple of tacos. Initially, eight pounds had been thoroughly seasoned with a dry rub and left in the Alto-Shaam to cook at 225 degrees overnight. It takes about 18 hours to get pork shoulder to the point where it literally falls apart in your hands, while still being tender and juicy. This was all in preparation for an off-site catering event the next day. By the time the p.m. shift clocked in for work, the Alto-Shaam was empty and clean. It was all gone and somewhere out there, hundreds of happy people were munching on the efforts of our hard work. Eighty pounds of slow-roasted and pulled pork left our kitchen, half a deli container, about a pound, came back.
To make pulled pork, we like to use a cut popularly known as the Boston butt, which comes from the upper shoulder of the pig. It has lots of connective tissue and fat, which translates to loads of flavor when cooked at low heat for a long period of time. Pulling pork with a fork and a pair of tongs is one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen. After removing the layer of fat which has been protecting and basting the meat for hours, it’s a simple job to shred everything into bite-size strands so moist it’s hard not to lick your fingers while shredding the meat.
Pulled pork with watermelon pico de gallo, a dish created as a late night Scooby snack, so delicious I had to write about it. I’ve included the recipes for both the watermelon pico de gallo and the pulled pork. I’ve adapted both recipes so you can make it at home. I’ve found pork butt weighing as little as four pounds at the Buford Highway Farmers market. Watermelon pico de gallo is just as delicious without a Cryovac machine, and for this recipe there is no need for one. The taco shells are easy to find; just look in the bread section of your local supermarket. Hope you enjoy making and eating this as much as we did.
WATERMELON PICO DE GALLO
2 cups of diced watermelon
½ of a small red onion (brunoise – fine dice)
1 jalapeno pepper (remove the seeds and dice)
¼ cup of cilantro (minced)
Juice from one lime
1 tsp. of tequila (optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Combine ingredients and let sit for thirty minutes in the refrigerator.
Spice-Rubbed Pulled Pork
4 lbs. Boston butt/pork shoulder
4 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. ground pepper
Plan ahead and season the pork shoulder a day before and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. Make sure all the sides are coated.
Turn the oven to 225° F. Make sure the fat layer on the shoulder is facing up before cooking! For each pound of pork estimate an hour and 15 minutes cooking time.
Place baking pan uncovered in a 225° degree F oven on the middle rack. This process is extremely slow, so plan ahead and be patient. Cook for 3 hours uncovered, turning as needed. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and finish covered for the final two hours. Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes, which allows the juices to redistribute evenly through the meat.
Place pork on a cutting board and use two forks to pull meat apart.