Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I came home tonight with defrosted chicken breasts and very little else to craft a dinner from. So, I made a Ribsticker, which is what I call my throwing shit together to make something healthy, tasty, and filling.

Prep certain ingredients first. I had three enormous chicken breasts which I sliced into cubes, as well as one very large onion that I gave a rough chop to.

In a large, high-walled pan, add some olive oil. This recipe makes a fair amount of food, so don't be too scared to add a few tablespoons. Crush ~8 cloves of garlic and allow to simmer in the oil. Once they start to brown, immediately add the onions and allow those to simmer for a few minutes. Add the chicken and stir it around for another 4 minutes or so. Add some frozen corn and frozen peas, leave for a few more minutes. While doing do, add salt, pepper, and some paprika. Add one can of (low sodium) chicken stock, and another can worth of water. Stir in roughly a cup of breadcrumbs. Myself, I had Italian style, but decided to use some panko I had laying around. It would thicken the liquid without adding any kind of a flowery flavor or anything. Turn heat to high until the mixture reaches boiling, then turn heat down to a simmer. Cover and leave for ten minutes.

No, it's nothing fancy. But it's cheap, tasty, easy to make, and stick to your ribs. I'm getting to the point where I have very little food in the house (need to do shopping soon) so it's at this time in the month when I start making things like this.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A City Dweller's Pulled Pork

I should start by saying that I never had pulled pork in my life up until maybe 3 years ago. Understand that it's not something New Yorkers, let alone Jews, make with great frequency. Too, we rarely went out to dinner. When we did, it was to various restaurants, but never BBQ- I can't recall any particular barbeque places in New York when I was a kid, though there are plenty here now. Steak restaurants, sure, but not BBQ. When we drove to Florida or some such, we stopped off at Chatanooga for Choo Choo's BBQ. I'm damned if I remember what I would order- probably steak or a burger- I loved those, and hated ribs.

Come to that, I never had a rib that I enjoyed until about 5 years ago, when I was introduced to beef spare ribs. Ribs with actual meat on them, not just pure fat on a bone? My world was well and truly rocked. Grilling we did plenty of in the summer. Back then, nobody (again, in New York) put sauces on the meat you put on the grill. I don't know if it occured to anyone. Then in the mid-90's, A1 steak sauce had a series of commercials where they suggested putting the steak sauce on the steak before grilling it. Steak sauce on the steak...before you grill it? It sounded just crazy enough to try. We did, thought it was okay, tried it another time or two, then decided that we liked our steaks grilled regular, thanks, with the steak sauce afterwards.

In any case, as I got older, I tried things like carnival chicken, which had barbeque sauce put on before it was cooked. I hated it- as far as I could see, the stuff just burned and made the entire chicken taste like burned garbage. I couldn't see the point of it, and I wished they wouldn't do it. But I keep an open eye for new things. As time passed, more and more BBQ places opened around New York, and I had my chance to sample them. My impression is that they are generally terrible, and that New Yorkers don't know dick about good barbeque.

There's a place up by Columbia called Dinosaur BBQ. With a name like that, it brings to mind The Flintstones, with the giant ribs that make the car fall over. And didn't we all wish we could have those ribs just once? I heard from so many damn people about how amazing it was, I couldn't wait to try it. It was awful. Understand, I tried a combination plate which gave be several different meats, plus I tried what everyone else ordered. Dino's could make some tasty sauce. But the meat was utterly flavorless. It tasted like something from a cafeteria. The texture would be fine, but the meat itself somehow had no flavor, I couldn't figure it out. I still can't. I guess they must have realized this, because they drowned the meat in sauce. To my mind, a sauce is always meant to compliment the flavor of the food it is on, not attempt to mask or drown it out.

Yes, I am aware that my pearl onions tend to drown in my cream sauce. That's because I always make too much cream sauce, never buy enough pearl onions, and I've found that people fucking love to put the cream sauce on their mashed potatoes.

Anyway, have you ever had a taste in your mind that you know that something can or should be? Well, I knew what pulled pork should taste like. The taste, texture, everything. I found a place in New York that will make it, but they are hellishly expensive. Plus, as near as I can tell, that's the only thing that they can make right.

Now, I live in an apartment. Though I have a balcony, I am not allowed to barbeque on it (except with my electric grill) and smoking food is just right out. How then could I make something like pulled pork? Well, one of the things I asked for when I got married was a slow cooker, as I know just how great they are to have for some things. Could I pull off a pulled pork with one?

Well, what did I have? Traditionally, you use pork shoulder, tough and fatty and cheap. Well, it's a meal based on not having much money, naturally. So, what meat did I have? I pretty much only buy meat that's on sale, so it'll have to do. What I had was pork loin. Not tenderloin, but the entire loin. Well, the pork loin in cross section is essentially a large oval of meat with a thick bottom layer of meat, like a mushroom cap on a fat stem. Not exactly right, but hell, it's what I have. I had bought the entire loin for about 13 bucks, brought it home and sliced it into sections of about 3.5-5 pounds each and shoved most of them in the freezer. This one was fully defrosted when I used it.

At night, I coated the pork loin in paprika, sea salt, pepper, and onion powder. Be generous. The loin then went into a ziplock bag and had the air mostly removed, then was shoved in the fridge overnight. In the morning before heading to work, I took the loin out and put it into the slow cooker, crushed a few cloves of garlic over the top, set it on slow cook, and went to work.

Now, one thing troubled me, and I'm still not 100% sure if I made the right decision. There is a thick layer of fat on one side, while the other side shows just meat. Do I put the meat fat side down or not? Well, I dind't want the meat to dry out, so the more indirect heat through the fat seemed wise. Plus, it would help to render the fat and have the pork sit in the juice and fat. On the other hand, if I put it meat side down, as the fat cooked it might work its way down the meat to keep it juicy. But then the meat touching the bottom might be dried out.

In the end, I put the fat side down. On returning home, I found that the juices had cooked out of the meat, and it was half submerged in them. I removed the loin with a couple of forks to a cutting board. The fat easily scraped off of the bottom of the meat and was discarded. The meat was- well, it's a bit dry, though not terribly so. I tasted a piece, and it was certainly flavorful, and wasn't tough or anything. At that point, it had been slow cooking for 9 1/2 hours, then kept warm for about another hour. That's because my slow cooker only goes to a max of 9.5 hours. In any case, you can feel free to try doing it for less time, whatever you like- I have a long workday, so I don't have much choice. That, and the cut of meat is tricky to keep completely moist.

I shredded the pork with a pair of forks, then added them back to the broth in the slow cooker. If you don't have much liquid, feel free to add a cup of broth. While that sat there, I made up a batch of my Awesomesauce (see recipe earlier, but essentially it is roughly 1/3rd honey, 2/3rds Heinz ketchup, and a bit of wasabi, cooked together until smooth). I made roughly 2-2 1/2 cups, and dumped that into the slow cooker as well. The food was stirred a little with a wooden spoon. The slow cooker was then set for another 2 hours and left to sit. It's there right now, so I don't know how it'll come out, but I'll edit in a little bit and let you know how it goes.

So, yes, the purists out there will scream and cry. But pulled pork is a meal about poor people taking what is on hand and doing what they can with it. That describes me pretty damn well, and it's about all one can do in an apartment. If you tried this and liked it, or have your own varients, I'd love to hear 'em!

Edit: Well, I am pleased. Not as good as I'd hoped, better than I expected. The taste is great, the pork is tender and flavorful. It's not melt-in-your-mouth the way true pulled pork is, but it's still very pleasant indeed. The only thing I would change is the liquid. The sauce ended up being a touch thin. It coats the pork beautifully, but it's just a touch too thin. I guess I could add a little flour or something, but it's not that big of a deal- I use a slotted spoon to take out the pork, but it's still thick enough to travel with the pork. Maybe it's just fine, but I should have shredded the pork a little bit more, or maybe made a little more pork, I dunno. In any case, it's a damn good start. The flavor is mostly that of the sauce, but there is still a touch of the flavors from the spices on the pork meat, enough that you get just a nice little tingle.

Still, I'd like to try it with proper pork shoulder at some point- see if the meat would be more flavorful. The barbeque sauce does admittedly mostly drown out the flavor of the pork- between the sweetness of the honey, the slight vinegar from the ketchup, and the flowery spiciness of the wasabi, it's hard to find the spiced pork in there. Maybe next time, I'll add less of the sauce, but it's a first attempt.

That said, it's still a damned tasty first attempt, especially on some kaiser rolls.