crispy oven pulled pork
This site has been bereft of a giant pork roast for too long. This one, to us, has been worth the wait and it came from the most logical place. I’ve been Bo Ssam-ing since the David Chang recipe was published in the New York Times in 2012. For legions of fans, it quickly became a generation’s go-to dinner party dish: a spectacularly low-effort, high-reward way to feed a crowd. The masterful thing about this slow-roast is the way the exterior takes on a dark, glossy, crisp, varnished edge that collapses easily under the tines of a fork, revealing pale, perfectly cooked pulls of pork within, and that you did almost nothing to make this happen. The ingredients couldn’t be simpler (got salt? sugar?), and in just a small fraction of the time that you’ve been liberated from any kitchen toiling while the pork slow-roasts and permeates your apartment with an unholy delicious aroma, you make the accompaniments. I wanted the pulled pork recipe on this site to have all of that, but designed with barbecue-style sandwiches in mind, no smoker required.
I make a slew of adjustments. Chang’s Bo Ssam calls for a bone-in pork shoulder or butt but I prefer boneless — it’s smaller, cooks faster, and has a more dramatic collapse. Instead of a simple salt and white sugar rub, I channel barbecue flavors, keeping the salt but swapping in brown sugar, paprika (smoked is wonderful here) and cayenne. I enlist a thin marinade known as a mop throughout the process — to initially baste the roast, to flavor the slaw, to dress the final roast as you pull it apart, keeping it moist, and then more at the table. We find it eliminates the need for a standard dark red barbecue sauce, but hey, if you’re nervous you’ll miss it, here is my simplest and a more elaborate recipe. Both sauces keep for what seems like forever in the fridge. (I will never admit how old my jar is.)
Most of all, I wanted this whole recipe to have an economy of ingredients and processes. This entire recipe, including the meat, slaw, and rolls, has ten ingredients. If you want to make the rolls I did from scratch (you’ll have the time, though probably not my tenuous grasp on how to use it sanely), you’ll need to add flour, an egg, some butter, milk, and yeast. I used to make ribs for summer holidays. With this almost completely hands-off recipe, those days might be over.
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Crispy Oven Pulled Pork
- 1 boneless pork shoulder (sometimes called Boston butt), about 3 3/4 pounds
- 3 tablespoons Diamond brand kosher salt (use half of any other brand)
- 6 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sweet or smoked paprika
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne or chipotle powder
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 small (2-pound) head green cabbage
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise, plus more to taste
- 12 sandwich rolls
The night before, prepare your roast: Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 tablespoons of the brown sugar, all of the paprika and 1 teaspoon of cayenne in a small bowl. It should taste saltier than it is sweet, and have as much kick as you like, so add more if you wish.
If your pork shoulder has a thick fatty layer on one side, scoring can help prefer it shrinking up and tightening the meat below. To score the fat, make shallow (1/8-inch deep) diagonal cuts in two directions a little under an inch apart in two directions, forming a diamond pattern.
Use your hands to pat the rub onto all sides of the pork — it’s going to be very thickly coated but don’t leave any rub behind. Place roast in a bowl or, if it fits in your fridge, the pan you’d like to roast it in tomorrow, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Make your mop: Combine remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar, all of the cider vinegar, ketchup, black pepper, and 1/3 cup water in a bowl and whisk until sugar dissolves. You want it to be pleasantly sharp (the fatty meat will cut right through any overpowering vinegar vibe) but not quite sour. I don’t find that I need salt, but you can add some if you wish. You’ll have a little over 1 2/3 cups.
Cook your pork: The next day, heat oven to 300 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap from pork and pour off any juices in the dish. If your pork is not in a roasting dish, transfer it to one. Cook pork for approximately 5 hours, or until it collapses, yielding easily when pulled back with a fork. After the first hour, add 1/4 cup mop to juices in pan and baste the meat with it. Continue to baste once an hour with juices that collect.
Make your slaw: Quarter, core, and thinly slice your cabbage. If slices are long, I cut them into 1 to 2-inch lengths, so the slaw doesn’t end up too cumbersome to pile on a sandwich. Place in a large bowl and pour 1/3 cup mop over, toss to combine. Add mayonnaise and mix well to combine. Season with salt and more pepper, if you wish, and taste, add more mop or mayo if needed. Refrigerate until ready to eat.
To finish and serve: Once meat is cooked, you can leave it at room temperature for up to an hour and a half. Rewarm briefly in a 450 degree oven. Shred pork into bite-sized pieces, discarding any larger chunks of fat, and pouring up to 1/2 cup of reserved mop over as needed to season and keep the meat moist.
Serve pulled pork on buns with slaw, seasoning with a splash of remaining mop and/or a barbecue sauce of you choice.
Note: I suspect you’re about to ask me if you can make this roast in a slow-cooker or InstantPot. Of course you can, but it will not be the same — it doesn’t get crisp or glossy. A slow-cooker can do this in 5 to 6 hours on high; an IP in about 80 minutes at high pressure, but neither will be varnished or crisp. You could blast it in a high-heat oven to create an edge, but it’s not going to be as astounding as the one took hours to form.
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