I love a good pulled pork.
Not the ones laden with sweet barbecue sauce, but instead full of rich, juicy, savoury goodness. I mean don't get me wrong, I still enjoy the sort that's drenched in a good, smoky barbecue sauce; but since visiting Burnt Ends (way back like 4 years ago), I've grown exceptionally fond of savoury pulled pork.
Forgive the photo, I shot this at like 4am in the morning — wasn't really thinking about setting up my lights and stuff.
You simply can't imagine the yumminess that is Burnt Ends' pulled pork Sanger burger — you have to try it to understand. I was so utterly besotted with it, I started on a pulled pork cooking rampage years back and attempted countless pulled pork recipes. Different cooking methods, different cultural variations; from Mexican carnitas, Texas-style smoked pulled pork, to Thomas Keller's pork and beans recipe that takes a full 3 days for the flavours to develop. I will tell you my family refused to eat pork for weeks after.
All of them were fabulous and each method has its own merits, so I can't say I've got a particular favourite. Carnitas, however, holds a special place in my heart for how accessible it is. It's so straightforward, you probably have all the ingredients you need in your pantry, and the results are consistently amazing. Who'd ever thought that orange juice and coke could so magically transform into an incredible broth?!
It's juicy, it's flavourful, it freezes 1000% perfectly, and if you've got a slow-cooker — EVEN BETTER. Chuck it in there, check back in after 6-10 hours, and presto you've got a crazy tender pulled pork ready for dinner. All that's left is to shred, then brown and crisp em up in a skillet, and wrap it up in with some guacamole and pico de gallo.
Or assemble them into fabulous Sanger-inspired pulled pork burgers like this.
Unfortunately renting a studio apartment means there really isn't sufficient counter space for a slow cooker, so I've always roasted mine in an oven. If you're lucky enough to have a slow cooker on hand (good on you!), you can skip step 3 below and place all the ingredients in step 2 into your slow cooker. Leave it on high for 6 hours or low for 10 hours, then continue with steps 4 onwards.
Carnitas (serves 4-6)
Adapted from RecipeTinEats
1kg pork shoulder (pork butt), skinless, boneless, but with the fat cap on
Salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped into chunks
1 jalapeño, deseeded and diced (I often use chillies and peppers as well cause it ain't easy to get jalapeños here)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup juice from orange (~2 oranges)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup coke
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Rinse and dry the pork shoulder, rub all over with salt and pepper. I don't measure the salt here, because what I've learnt over the years is it's always better to be generous with your salt. It's a huge chunk of meat you've got here, and all the flavours are coming together in the oven where you can't do the usual taste tests and adjustments. You can dilute the final broth with some water if it's a touch too salty, but you can't flavour your meat anymore after it's come out of the oven! So — salt freely.
2. Combine the ingredients for the rub, then rub all over the pork making sure to get into the little nooks and crannies. Place the pork in a deep roasting pan (fat cap up), and top it with the onion, jalapeño, minced garlic (don't worry about spreading it), and squeeze over the juice of the oranges and lemon. Add the coke and water around pork.
3. Cover tightly with foil and roast in 160C oven for 2 hours. Remove the foil then roast for a further 1-1.5 hours. Add more water if the liquid dries out too much. In my experience, the muscles in the pork really starts to break down with longer roasting times. Here, what you'll get is a tender and juicy slab of meat that still has a little bit of bite. If you want it to be completely fork-tender, you could roast it in the oven for 6-8 hours covered, before proceeding with the second round of roasting.
4. Remove the pork from the roasting pan and let it cool slightly. Shred using two forks.
5. If you have a lot more than 1.5 cups of remaining broth and pan juices, then reduce it down to about 1.5 cups. The liquid will be salty, but that's fine — it is the seasoning for the pork. Set the liquid aside — don't bother straining onion etc, they'll be super soft anyway. If you're intending to freeze the meat, let the meat and separated liquid cool at this point before storing.
6. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large non stick pan over high heat. Spread the shredded pork in the pan and drizzle over some juices. Wait until the juices evaporate and the bottom side is golden brown and crusty. Stir it a little to just briefly sear all the other bits — you don't want to brown all the meat, because then it'll be way too crispy. Gotta have some tender juicy bits.
7. Remove the pork from skillet, and repeat till all the pork is browned and crisp. You'll wanna make sure to not overcrowd the pan so everything can crisp up well, it's alright to do this in multiple batches. Good things come to those who wait!
8. Just before serving, drizzle over the remaining broth and serve hot.