Pull My Pork

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Occasionally, while I am between steps in cooking, I will jot down a note or two, sometimes in free verse. So it was this past evening:

Pull My Pork

From an oven low and slow,
Barely more than candle flames,
Pork perfume pervades.
Garbed in Marco Polo’s to-do list
Basting like a Russian on the Barcelona coast,
One large butt.
Actually a shoulder, an innocent misnomer
From people who deceived you
Into thinking thymus glands
were sweetbreads.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I stumbled upon an article that gave me a workaround for cooking my soon-to-reach-its-sell-by-date port butt in the oven, rather than trying to smoke it in my electric pellet smoker during a rainstorm.

It couldn’t be more simple; rub the pork “butt” (actually the shoulder, but hey, this isn’t a physiology blog) with a spice blend of your choice. Then pop it in a Dutch oven overnight at a very low temp, maybe mop it (that is, squirt or daub a little liquid on it) a time or two if you feel like it, and pull it out the next day. I set mine on the insert from my Instant Pot®, just to keep the meat from sitting in its own rendered juice and also to develop some crust (or bark) on the bottom.

My rub was as simple as 1-2-3: one part sea salt (or Kosher salt) to two parts Penzeys Singapore seasoning to three parts brown sugar.

The “mop” followed a similar formula: one part Dijon mustard to two parts apple cider vinegar to three parts dark molasses. I put it in a squirt bottle and splashed some on once during the night when I woke up and again early in the AM before it was ready to come out.

The boneless pork shoulder weighed about 7.5 lbs / 3.5 kg, and it took about 12 hours at 225°F / 107°C to reach an internal temperature of 205 °F / 96°C , at which point I pulled it out of the oven, let it stand for 30 minutes or so, and pulled it apart with forks and (clean) fingers.

The “bark” was as good as its bite.

INGREDIENTS
1 large pork butt, preferably boneless, about 7.5 lbs / 3.5 kg
For The 1-2-3 Rub
sea salt or kosher salt
Penzeys Singapore Seasoning
brown sugar
For The 1-2-3 Mop
Dijon mustard
apple cider vinegar
dark molasses

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 225°F / 107°C.
If you have time, remove meat from refrigerator for about an hour.
Rub spice blend thoroughly onto meat, coating all sides.
Put pork in roasting pan or Dutch oven, preferably on a small wire rack/riser.
Cook for about 12 hours, mopping occasionally (or not), until its internal temperature reaches approximately 205 °F / 96°C. [Anything over 202 °F / 94.5°C should be fine, you just want it to be falling apart without much stress.]
Allow to cool for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, them pull apart with forks.
Refrigerate or freeze the unused portion(s).

Rosemary Apple Butter — Savory To The Core

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Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Who doesn’t like apple butter? Seriously. One of the real joys of this humble spread is that it can be made so easily, and with almost no general kitchen aptitude. If you can manage to get a bunch of ingredients into a pot — or, in this case, a slow cooker — you’ve pretty much got it made.

My main quarrel with most of the apple butters I’ve consumed over the years (and a minor one at that) is that they were a tad sweet for my taste; I aimed to veer off a few degrees toward the more savory side, and because I have a thriving rosemary bush immediately adjacent to my house, I decided to employ its bountiful, um, bounty. Basil or thyme would also make excellent partners in the savory apple butter process, but rosemary works magnificently on its own, and it was at hand in abundance.

The first time I made apple butter, I peeled all the apples with a hand-held vegetable peeler. Very old-school, and plenty effective, but it does lend itself to a bit of carpal tunnel syndrome, and it’s slow. For just about $20 USD, you can pick up a peeler/corer unit that really speeds up the process, and keeps your wrists supple and cramp-free.

The slow cooker is a perfect match for this recipe, but it’s easily doable on the stove or in the oven; basically, you bring the liquid to a boil, then back off on the heat, and let it cook until it reduces to the desired thickness. If you were putting it in the oven in a covered pot (a Dutch oven, for instance), you’d want to keep it covered for most of the time, and the temp fairly low, say 250˚F/125˚C, and you can leave it overnight.

ROSEMARY APPLE BUTTER
6 Jonagold apples
6 Golden Delicious apples
6 Granny Smith apples
6 Red Delicious apples
½ cup turbinado sugar (honey or agave syrup can be used as a substitute, as can regular cane sugar, white or brown)
Juice of 2 lemons
6 sticks cinnamon
1 cup unfiltered Honeycrisp apple juice
8 star anise
1 branch rosemary (6-8 twigs)

[NOTE: I picked the apples I did due to the fact that they were all on sale; the Red Delicious are definitely the weak sister in the bunch, taste and texture-wise, so you might want to have either eight apiece of the first three varieties, or substitute some other variety for the Red Delicious. As it turned out, the apple butter was delicious (no pun intended), but I think it could have been even better with Romes or Galas or McIntoshes or Fujis or many other options.

Also, the unfiltered Honeycrisp apple juice was on sale, so I opted for it. It’s really quite good, but I expect that pretty much any apple juice is equal to the task.]

Peel, core, and cut up apples and put into a slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients. Leave on high for two hours, then switch to low for another twelve or so until desired consistency is reached. Remove cinnamon sticks, star anise, and rosemary twigs. Process in food processor or with immersion blender. [Be careful if using a food processor, especially if it’s still warm; the steam needs a place to go, so don’t cover your food processor tightly. Just set a towel over the opening.]

After about 12 hours or so, it should look kinda like this.

Cooked WAY down.

Cooked WAY down.

Some people prefer the rustic lumps and clumps of apple butter as pictured above, but the rosemary had shed some of its leaves, and I wasn’t happy to have them texturally in the finished product. I suppose I could have pulled all the leaves out with tweezers, but that wasn’t a happy prospect, so I let the immersion blender do its work.

Smooth as butter.

Smooth as butter.

At this point, the only decision remaining was whether or not to can. Because I added only a minimal amount of sugar, and because I wasn’t sure how acidic the apple varieties I used were, and because it didn’t yield an unworkable amount of finished product, I decided not to process the final apple butter in the traditional water bath, and opted for refrigeration instead. (My pH strips have since indicated that it’s well within the safe range for canning, so if you care to, go ahead and process the standard way; no need for pressure canning.) I’m guessing that between your own uses and the friends who will be clamoring for it, your apple butter won’t spend a long time on the shelf.

Where the heck did those 24 apples go?

Where the heck did those 24 apples go?

The apple butter pairs well with any sort of stinky cheese in hors d’oeuvres, but it’s also delightful with good old everyday Cheddar, or on a toasted English muffin either with or without butter. It also makes a terrific glaze for pork or chicken, should the occasion arise.