Okay, people, I've been wanting to share this recipe with you for years, and I can't wait any longer! I had hoped to get better at barbecuing first. I've been waiting and waiting until I could competently maintain low, smoldering coals for six hours at a time without letting the fire go out. But it always goes out. Then I overcompensate by building a flaming inferno that rages on seemingly forever, until I grow bored and start doing something else, and then the fire goes out again. It would seem I don't have enough stamina for the slow-burning fire marathon that is southern barbecue. I can get the coals really, really hot or really, really cold. There is no in-between.
I was skeptical the first time I made pulled pork in a slow cooker. Wouldn't it be a shadow of its barbecued self? But you know what? It's great! It's fantastic! On a scale of 1 to 100, awesome minus 2 is still awesome! Yes, it's not as wood-smoky as it otherwise would be. I added a little smoked paprika to the spice rub to help out with that. Yes, it still takes a looong time to cook, but you don't have to DO anything. No coals to tend, nothing. It cooks all day while the cook's away/at play/on the bidet.
This time, I cooked up two pork roasts at the same time. I knew we'd eat it all and we did. The 9YO is over the moon for this stuff, and ate three big piles of pulled pork after deciding the roll was interfering with the full meat experience. Then he threatened to sneak downstairs at midnight and eat some more. He won't get too far, though, because my money's on Husband to beat him there, hiding in a dark corner of the dark kitchen, hissing, eyes aglow like a startled raccoon. Me, I won't try to compete. I can eat all the pulled pork I want in my dreams and never have to leave the bed!
So, it's up to you this Labor Day if you want to cue up the BBQ and do some actual labor or cue up the crockpot and labor ironically. Either way, you're in for some good eating!
Cheater's North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork (print-friendly version)
Start the night before by applying the dry rub and shaking together the barbecue sauce for best results. However, I've thrown it all together that morning and it still comes out great. I'm partial to the vinegar-based barbecue sauce for which North Carolina is known, but if you have your own favorite sauce, feel free to sub it in. Serve on a roll with coleslaw!
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika (I like to go half and half with sweet and smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
3- to 5-pound pork shoulder or Boston butt, bone in or out
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)
Shake together all the sauce ingredients in a mason jar until the salt dissolves. Refrigerate.
Mix all the spices together in a small bowl. Dry off the meat with paper towels and rub the spice mixture all over. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. If you don't have that kind of time, proceed to the next step.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil until hot. Brown the meat on all sides to get a tasty outer crust. Again, if you're in a hurry, you can skip this step. (It does make it better, though.)
Transfer the meat to a slow cooker. Pour about 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce over the meat. Cover and cook 4 to 6 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low. The meat should be very tender when poked. Remove it to a cutting board. Pour the liquid in the slow-cooker into a measuring cup and let it sit undisturbed. Shred the meat with a fork, pulling it apart and place it in a large bowl. Pour off the fat from the top of the liquid in the measuring cup, and reserve the dark sauce below. Pour a few tablespoons of the dark sauce over the meat and toss (not too much, as it can be salty from the rub).
Make sandwiches by piling pulled pork onto bulky rolls, dressing with the remaining barbecue sauce or more of the brown pan drippings, and topping with homemade coleslaw.
The Barbecue Method
If you want to try your hand with the barbecue, here are my notes. This should work, theoretically, if you're diligent about adding enough coals every hour. It does take some practice, but if the fire does go out, just throw it in the slow cooker on high and call it a day!
Soak 4 cups of wood chips in water for 30 minutes (I use hickory). Preheat the grill (I use a chimney starter filled 3/4 of the way up with charcoal, bottom stuffed with newspaper, and lit from underneath with a match). Once the coals are ashy (about 20 minutes), dump them onto the bottom grate on one side of the grill. Place the cover on the grill, poke a thermometer through one of the holes in the vent, and close the vent a bit to get the temperature down to 300°F. Once there, add some soaked wood chips to the coals and replace the top grate.
Add the meat to the grill on the opposite side as the coals. Try to maintain a grill temperature between 200° and 225°F. Don't let the fire go out (haha, have fun with that!). To get the temperature higher, open the vent more. To get the temperature lower, close the vent more. Every hour, add 10 or so more coals and another handful of wood chips (grill grates often have hinges that allow you to lift up one side to add more coals/chips). Baste the meat with barbecue sauce and replace the cover immediately. Smoke 5 to 6 hours. When the meat is tender and nearly falling apart (an internal temperature of 190° to 195°F), remove the meat from the grill. Let rest. Shred the pork.
Pork: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA
And while we're talking about summer food, how about a lobster roll?
February has arrived and, even though it's been a relatively tame winter, I'm still sick of squash. I don't care what any groundhogs have to say about six more weeks of winter: I want it to be summer in my mouth, and if I have to spend my entire book advance on lobsters to make that happen, then so be it. Incidentally, I think we need to find a more translucent animal than a groundhog to make these kinds of shadow-based weather predictions. Like a jellyfish. Or something nocturnal like a bat. It's hard to see your own shadow in complete darkness. Are there any cute but completely blind animals?
Awkward segue back to lobsters: This is a very basic but totally delicious lobster roll technique. The idea is to let the lobster shine. The scallions and celery are barely there for a little color and crunch, not to compete with the lobster. There's just one thing I insist upon. Toast the buns. Toast them, people. It makes all the difference in the world.
Classic New England Lobster Roll
Serve with a green salad or not.
2 1-1/2-lb. lobsters, steamed (instructions here), cooled
2-4 Tbsp. mayo
1-2 scallions, chopped
2-inch piece of celery, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Pinch ground cayenne pepper
New England-style hot dog rolls (the ones that top-load and have flat sides for toasting)
Remove tail and claw meat (including the delicious arms!). Chop lobster meat into bite-sized chunks. Mix with mayo, scallions, celery, salt, lemon juice, and cayenne. Refrigerate until cold.
When ready to serve, heat skillet over medium heat. Butter the pan and the sides of the rolls (I do this by rubbing the stick of butter over the hot skillet, then rubbing the melty stick all over the sides of the roll, repeating until roll is sufficiently buttery). Toast buns several minutes on each side until golden. Let cool a few minutes, then stuff with dressed lobster. Serves 3-4.
Lobsters: Rockport lobsterman via Cape Ann Fresh Catch, Gloucester, MA
One of my lasting memories of Nonni is of her standing at the kitchen counter after a roast chicken dinner and pulling every last shred of meat off the bones. The chicken would then find its way into soup or whatever else she pleased.
Her depression-era tactics have served me well. On these warmer days, I like to use the scavenged meat in a quick curried chicken salad. If I'm diligent, I can get enough meat for 2 to 4 sandwiches before I freeze the stripped carcass for soup stock. That's three separate and substantial meals from a single chicken, if anyone is keeping count. Nonni would approve.
Curried Chicken Salad
If you don't like raisins, you can substitute chopped grapes, but I'm partial to the raisin version.
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
Handful or two of raisins
1/2 cup mayo
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. curry powder (or more)
Salt and pepper
In a medium bowl, combine chicken, onion, and raisins. Make a well in the ingredients and stir together mayo, mustard, curry powder, and plenty of salt and pepper. Mix everything together well. Heap into your favorite sandwich configuration.
Okay, enough with my crazy mushroom obsession. Time to get back to something a little more mainstream. Like goat gyros!
Wait, don't leave! Goat is good, I promise. Remember that time I made Vikram Vij's goat curry and then never wrote out the recipe for you guys, apparently? Well, it was really delicious, trust me. So good that when goat came up in our Chestnut Farms meat CSA again, I dove for it. This time it was ground goat, and I knew right away what I wanted to do with it. Gyros!
First things first: pronunciation. You may, if you choose, mentally read the word gyro as "YEE-ro" with a Greek accent. Or, you can do what I do and pronounce it "JAI-ro" because I'm never going to change. Or, if you're too embarrassed to pronounce it in public at all, just make it yourself. I mean, when it comes right down to it, a gyro is just a souped-up meatloaf sandwich. One with slightly different flavorings and served in pita with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a generous slathering of cool, creamy, garlicky tzatziki sauce. But, still, a meatloaf sandwich nonetheless.
My trusted Internet sources suggested that ground goat can be very lean, so I mixed it half and half with some ground pork. It wasn't dry at all. Feel free to substitute the goat/pork mixture with ground lamb (or ground beef, for that matter). It was super tasty, but this sandwich will be to-die-for during the height of tomato season. Mark it down!
Goat Gyros with Tzatziki
The meatloaf technique is borrowed from Alton Brown. The water bath seems a little fussy for meatloaf, and I may throw caution to the wind next time and go without it, but I'm including it here anyway. I mean really, Tammy, how hard is it to put water in a pan? Get your yogurt draining several hours before you start unless you're using Greek-style yogurt.
1 lb. ground goat
1 lb. ground pork
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. dried marjoram
1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
8 large whole pitas
Head of lettuce
4 tomatoes, diced
Red onion, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Process onion in the food processor until minced, 10-15 seconds. Dump onion into center of a non-linty dishtowel. Gather up the sides of the towel, twist, and squeeze hard over the sink until most of the juice is extracted. Shake onion back into food processor and add ground meat, garlic, marjoram, rosemary, salt, and pepper, and process until pasty and gross, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl halfway through. Don't worry, it gets better.
Scrape meat mixture into a loaf pan, pressing it into the sides. Place loaf pan in a larger roasting pan and fill that pan with water halfway up the sides. Bake about an hour and change until it's cooked through and smells great. Remove from oven and drain fat. I took another loaf pan, set it on top of the meatloaf and put some heavy tomato cans inside to weigh it down (I did this instead of weighing it down with a foil-wrapped brick per the original recipe). You could probably skip this step, too, if you wanted. Let rest 15 minutes. Slice for sandwiches.
To serve, nuke a stack of whole pita rounds for about 20 seconds until warm and bendable. Line each with lettuce leaves. Arrange your meat down the center (I find one or two slices broken up to be sufficient). Scatter diced tomatoes and sliced red onion, and spoon tzatziki sauce generously over it all. Fold up an inch or two of the bottom of the pita and, while holding it in place, fold one side over, then the other. Insert a toothpick or two in the bottom or wrap with foil. Dollop a little extra tzatziki sauce on top and you're good to go. When I reheat the leftover meat in the days that follow, I do so not in the microwave but in a pan with a little olive oil so I can brown each side while it heats.
If using Greek-style yogurt, use maybe 1/4 less than the recipe calls for since you don't need to drain it.
16 oz. plain yogurt
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Place the yogurt in a cheesecloth- or tea towel-lined strainer over a bowl, and drain for two hours in the fridge. Gather the chopped cucumber in another tea towel and squeeze over the sink to remove liquid. In a medium bowl, combine drained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, mint, and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In my very tomato-oriented post about our vacation to mid-state New York last month, I failed to mention the meat. This is a very important oversight on my part, one that requires immediate rectification, because there are several specialties from that region that cannot go unmentioned.
First up: Snappy Grillers. I may be partial to Hebrew Nationals and Fenway Franks made by local Chelsea-based Kayem, but there’s plenty of room in my heart for additional hot dogs. Snappy Grillers are German franks in natural casings made by Hofmann in Syracuse. A mix of pork and veal gives them their pale color. They grill up crispy and addictive, and how many I ate during that week on the lake is not important so don’t ask.
Then, there’s beef on weck. Weck, for the uninitiated, is short for kummelweck, which is a type of German roll topped with big grains of salt and caraway seeds. The sandwich itself consists of a pile of thinly sliced rare roast beef on the aforementioned weck, cut side of the top bun dipped in beef juices (sorry: “au jus”), but not to the point of sogginess, and dabbed with as much horseradish as you deem appropriate. I like to make myself cry, apparently, but it’s unclear whether it was the effects of the horseradish or just my usual emotional reaction to an exceptional sandwich.
But perhaps our favorite of the area meats, and the one attributed to Binghamton in particular, are spiedies. Pronounced “speedies,” they are marinated chunks of lamb, beef, pork, or chicken, skewered and grilled, and served in a slice of Italian scali bread. My friend Red, whose family owns the lake house at which we were squatting, grills onions and green peppers for the sandwiches, too.
Spiedies originated with the Italian immigrants that settled in the Binghamton area. Spiedini means “grilled skewered meat” in Italian, and once the grilling is complete, slices of buttered Italian bread were traditionally used as a sort of mitt to pull the meat off the skewers so that there’s a seamless transition from grill to mouth. Or you can be more civilized about it and put the grilled meat and vegetables on a platter for more systematic sandwich construction. Your choice.
We got our spiedies pre-marinated from Lupo’s in Binghamton, as is the tradition in Red’s family. Lupo’s recipe is top secret, though I did steal a peek at the ingredients on a bottle of Lupo’s marinade on display at Wegmans. You can also buy the spiedie marinade online here. I suspect one of the secrets is an extra-long marination time for a really deep, penetrating flavor. Of course, it was only a matter of time before I tried to make it myself. Here’s a recipe I adapted from one that was cut out of a Binghamton-area newspaper and tucked into a cookbook at the lake house. It’s from spiedie prize-winner Patrick Kennedy of Endicott, NY and, along with a few additions of my own, yields a very close approximation of those delicious summer meals we enjoyed so much.
Use vegetable oil instead of olive oil for the marinade because it won’t solidify in the refrigerator and hamper the long 2- to 3-day marination process.
2½ lbs. sirloin steak, lamb, pork, or chicken breast
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tsp. dried oregano (or marjoram, my preference)
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Sliced onions and green peppers
Italian scali bread
Salted butter, softened
Trim meat and cut into 1½-inch chucks. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and spices. Add meat and mix until well coated. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 days, stirring every day to redistribute marinade.
If using wooden skewers, soak for half an hour before grilling. Thread meat onto skewers and let sit at room temperature while heating grill. You can give the onions and peppers a quick soak in the leftover marinade before grilling if you’d like. Grill meat and vegetables until nicely browned on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. Butter bread on one side and grab meat off the skewers. Add onions and peppers, if so inclined, and then grab a beer.
I think I just made the most delicious Reuben I’ve ever had in my life.
As soon as I took a bite, I could feel a slow smile start to cross my face. Because all of the flavors don’t hit you at once. First, it’s the sweet and sour rye. Then comes the corned beef in all of its fatty, meaty glory, followed by the Swiss cheese melting all over the place, and then the tangy, crunchy sauerkraut, each one building into a crescendo of………oh, what the hell am I writing here, it’s a goddamned sandwich for Pete’s sake. It was yummy.
I know one of you is going to tell me that I didn’t put enough meat in there. I know everybody loves big piles of meat. I am one of those people. But it’s all about the ratio here. Too much meat, and all you taste is meat. Which is fine, but why did I just spend a month tending to a bucket of cabbage, then? And baking bread.
No, you’ve got to use a little restraint, people. I’m the last person to be preaching about self-control in the kitchen, I realize, but it’s the darnedest thing about this life. So often, the person doing the preaching is the very one who should sit back and take a listen.
So, here’s my advice on how to make a kick-ass Reuben, take it or leave it:
1. Get your corned beef, your rye bread, your (homemade!!!) sauerkraut, your thinly sliced Swiss cheese at the ready. If you call it a mise en place, you’re going to have to leave.
2. Find a bottle of Thousand Island dressing. Alternatively, mix up your own special sauce (Two parts mayo to one part ketchup. Special, indeed.).
3. Grab a stick of butter and peel the paper off one side. Heat a frying pan over medium-low heat. Run the stick of butter over the bottom of the pan so it melts a bit (repeat as necessary), then use it to butter one side of both pieces of bread.
4. Place one piece of bread buttered-side-down on top of the puddle of butter in the pan. Oh, yeah. Spread special sauce on the other side.
5. Arrange your layers. I like corned beef on the bottom, then cheese, then sauerkraut. However, I don’t really think there’s a wrong way to do this (Yes, there is. Do it my way.). Also, don’t just lift a stack of corned beef from its wrapping and slap it onto the bread. That is an abomination. I didn’t work every weekend in high school making sandwiches for nothing. You have got to separate each layer. Ideally, you would place each slice on the bread so it folds over at least once, maybe twice, and sort of stagger them as you go to ensure consistent meat thickness throughout the sandwich. God, what is my problem?
6. More special sauce on the non-buttered side of the other piece of bread (buttered side on the outside). By now, it might be time to flip. Easy does it — it’s not all stuck together, yet. Don’t be afraid to let the bread get brown, but you also want the cheese to melt. Lower the heat if these two things aren’t happening at the same rate.
And there you have it. Think you can handle this, Dad?
At the risk of sounding mundane, I had the most delicious sandwich today. Chicken salad in cilantro pesto on toasted bread with local lettuce and fat slices of Brandywine tomato. It was seriously good.
We got some nice cilantro from our farmshare, and since I knew from experience that it wilts at a ridiculous rate, I knew I had to get it into circulation right away. Pesto sounded like a good idea. Plus, it would hold for a few days in that oily environment so I could figure out what I wanted to do with it.
Initially, I was thinking I’d thin it out with olive oil and drizzle it over haddock. But, then I went a little crazy with the pumpkin seeds and it ended up nuttier than I expected. Suddenly, I wasn’t seeing fish. Chicken seemed more like it. I found some scraps in the freezer, fried them up (I was out of charcoal), and shredded them with a knife and fork. In went about half of the pesto and a few tablespoons of mayonnaise. Just right.
If I had been organized, this sandwich could have qualified as 100% local. But, alas, I was not. The oil was from Spain, and the chicken and the pumpkin seeds were from…who the hell knows. The store? It’s not September, yet.
Though this worked great for chicken salad, I might reduce the pumpkin seeds by half for other things.
1 bunch cilantro (maybe two loose cups), leaves picked off, washed, and dried
½ cup pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp. white onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp. cubanelle pepper, roughly chopped (I thought what I had was a hot pepper, but turns out it wasn’t)
¼-½ cup Spanish olive oil
Salt and pepper
Pulse the first four ingredients in the food processor. With the processor running, add the oil in a slow stream. Keep pouring until it’s the way you like it. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Lately, I’ve really been pushing the limits of my pantry. I’ve been letting supplies get ridiculously low before making desperate trips to the grocery store. Part of it is accidental (When the hell did we run out of food?), but part of it is recreational (Okay, well, we have eggs and preserved lemons. Let’s make a meal.).
In this particular scenario, that meant turning lemons into egg salad. A heavy hand with the smoked paprika yielded a sort of Moroccan deviled egg. Which then exploded. I didn’t have lettuce or tomato. Or bread, even. But, I did have hot dog rolls. So, I served my egg salad straight-up, wiener-style, just the way the Moroccans like it.
Moroccan-Style Egg Salad
6 large eggs
2 Tbsp. onion, minced
1 Tbsp. preserved lemon peel, chopped
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
¼ cup mayo
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. smoked paprika (or to taste)
Salt and pepper
Place eggs in a small pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit 12 minutes. Transfer eggs to bowl of ice water until cooled. Peel and chop the eggs.
In a medium bowl, add eggs, onion, preserved lemon, parsley, mayo, and mustard. Mix gently. Add a few squeezes of lemon juice, half of the smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix again and taste. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.