Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thrifty Cooking: Two Little Piggy (Pork, Part 2)

This is one of a series of blog entries that will deal with the idea of "thrifty cooking". In these terrible economic times, when people are getting layed-off by the hundreds, we can all save a lot of money by going back to some of the skills our grandparents had in the kitchen. All it takes is a little time and a bit of confidence. I'll show you how to turn an inexpensive cut of meat into three family meals, or how to make the most out of inexpensive pantry ingredients like rice and dried legumes.

Continuing Our Discussion of Pork...
The other two inexpensive cuts of pork are the "butt" and the "shoulder". The butt, which isn't actually the cow's rear-end, comes from the upper part of the front leg. The "shoulder" cut or "Picnic Shoulder" are the lower part of the front leg.

Both are fairly fatty pieces of meat with great "marbling" (streaks of fat embedded throughout the lean parts of the meat). The only practical and healthy way to cook them is low and slow because the slow cooking allows the fat to melt and drip from the meat, moistening things as it goes. Also, the collagen breaks down into gelatin and makes things "finger-licking." Both cuts tend to be incredibly cheap, sometimes under a dollar a pound on sale.

Slow cooker recipes work well with both of these cuts, as does traditional southern barbecue (if you have the time). My favorite thing to do is to simulate southern barbecue using a wet cooking method called braising. This is the same process that we use for dishes like Yankee Pot Roast. It produces tender, fall-apart-with-a-fork meat that's stringy and incredibly tasty.

Indoor Pulled Pork
Note: This process can be done in a slow cooker for 4+ hours on high or 8 hours on low.

1. Choose your cut of meat (butt or shoulder). Remove any large chunks of fat. If you chose the shoulder, determine whether you want to keep the skin on or not. It contains a thick layer of fat underneath that will keep the meat moist but is not necessary with this particular cooking method.

2. Dry the outside of the meat with paper towels and coat it liberally with a spice rub. Either find a recipe for spice rub online or buy a bottle at the supermarket. True southern BBQ folks wage wars over their secret recipes. Since they'd probably disown us as part of the human race for what we're about to do (fake Barbecue), it doesn't really matter. Choose one with flavors you like. :-)

3. Put the meat in the fridge uncovered for 20-60 minutes (overnight is better) to let the rub do its job. During this time, the flavors will begin to really penetrate the meat.

4. Take the meat out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature a bit. Heat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the pork into a baking dish, add 1-inch of water to the bottom of the pan and cover it tightly with foil. Place the roast into the oven. Cook for 3 or more hours until the meat literally falls off the bone. Test it periodically with a fork and make sure to re-seal the foil each time so the meat steams.

5. When the meat is done, remove it from the oven and the pan and let it sit on a cutting board uncovered for 15-20 minutes. When it's cool enough to work with, take chunks of the meat off with a knife or fork. At this point, you could serve one meal as chunks of pork roast with potatoes and a veggie if you wish. Treat it like pot roast.

6. With the leftovers, shred the meat with two forks, removing fat as you find it. Hold the two forks facing down, one in each hand, and pull the meat apart using the tines of the forks. You can freeze or refrigerate the meat at this point if you wish. Add some bottled BBQ sauce or make some from scratch, reheat in the microwave, pile onto a bulkie roll, and you have yourself a fantastic pulled-pork BBQ sandwich. Incidentally, this works with chicken legs as well and takes a fraction of the time.

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