If you haven’t heard of her already, Jenny Rosenstrach is a lady you should be aware of. Her blog and subsequent book, Dinner: A Love Story, were born of a dinner diary detailing what she’s eaten for dinner every night since 1998. Her recipes are excellent and varied and I perceive the center of her work to be that all relationships can be made stronger simply by sitting down with your people for a meal. YES! I agree wholeheartedly and love the authenticity of her voice and mission.
Possibly the only thing I love more than the spirit behind her work are her Rut-Busting Pulled Pork Sandwiches. I made these sandwiches for the first time two years ago for one of Brian’s first visits with my parents. We were planning for a sunny summer afternoon meal and I told them I’d bring the main course if they handled side dishes, so we got a five pound pork shoulder from the farmers market. Since it was a pretty big guy, it took quite a long time to cook. I stupidly decided it would work well to put this thing in the oven just before we went to sleep so we were up every two hours the entire night checking on the pork roast. It felt like a preview of having a newborn baby and I would not suggest this method of preparation. Cook the roast on an afternoon when you know you’ll be home and hanging around and then invite over a group of friends for dinner. That sounds to me like a much more enjoyable use of time, and everyone will be so impressed by your sandwich-making skills.
Original recipe here. I’ve adapted it slightly to make the sauce a bit thinner and more acidic. And I’m totally team pork shoulder. Also, this roast could certainly be made in the crockpot if that’s your thing — I assume the method there would be to throw everything in the pot (possibly halve amounts of thyme, salt, and pepper?) and let it cook for 6 – 8 hours on high or longer on low.
Before we get too far into this, shall we discuss pork shoulders? A pork shoulder is a pork’s shoulder is a pig’s shoulder. That is what it is! Sometimes butchers refer to shoulders as primal cuts, meaning they are one of the first pieces of meat separated from the animal during butchering. Typically, primal cuts carry a lower price tag than other cuts of meat since they don’t require as much intensity in carving. Pork shoulders are a hard working muscle on any piggy, so they should be cooked ‘low and slow’ to render them tender. The boston butt and picnic roast are both from the shoulder of a hog, though the picnic tends to have less fat and more connective tissue, meaning it may require a bit more cooking time than a boston butt. I find either type of shoulder roast to be a great fit for any meal you’re planning to cook for a long time on low heat.
- four pound pork shoulder roast (boston butt or picnic)
- 2 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. black pepper
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced (or in my case, 6 small ones)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 c. barbecue sauce (I used this one from my local organic grocery, but making it yourself would be fabulous, too. Jenny has a recipe on p. 238 of her book which I’ve never tried to make because I never have bourbon which is one of the ingredients, but it sounds really tasty.)
- 1 c. apple cider vinegar
- 3 dried chiles (Jenny recommends guajillo chiles or a few drops of hot sauce as a replacment, I used ancho chiles. Use whatever you can get your hands on!)
- 2 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 325F. Mix together thyme, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub a thawed pork shoulder all over with the seasoning to coat.
On the stove, warm a dutch oven or other heavy pot that can go in the oven to medium heat and add olive oil. Cook seasoning-coated pork shoulder in oil for 5 – 7 minutes on all sides and remove pork shoulder from pot.
Add diced onion and minced garlic to the pot and cook until onions are translucent. Add barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, and chiles. Bring to a boil. Add pork roast back to pot and ensure that the liquid comes at least 1/3 of the way up the roast. If it doesn’t, add some additional water and mix to combine.
Transfer the pot to the oven and cover with a lid left slightly ajar. Cook for approximately 6 hours, flipping the roast once every hour. Roast is done when it can be easily pulled apart with a fork. Shred the meat and mix with sauce. Make sure to remove chiles and bay leaves.
I wanted to make brioche buns to use for these sandwiches. I mixed and kneaded the dough using a sourdough starter I’ve recently been feeding and it turned out beautifully —carmel-y and thick and warm and firm. Never have a seen a more perfect dough ball. Alas, it was a total flop in terms of timing and never made it from gorgeous and perfect ball of dough into the oven to become bread. Really really sad thing throwing that away after its fifth day in the fridge. Anyway, the pulled pork ended up on toasted semolina buns with melted sharp cheddar cheese, a fried egg, and mixed greens. Not complaining.