Like my pun?
I don’t buy a lot of meat. I’m not Vegan – I love eggs and yoghurt, and would find it difficult to go through life without these items, but I don’t often buy beef or poultry because I just don’t crave it all that often. I also often can’t bring myself to spend ten dollars on a few ounces of meat when I could buy other protein-dense foods, such as lentils and beans, for less.
However, sometimes this isn’t always the case. For instance, in the Little Italy area of Bloor street in Toronto, there is a shop called YamChops, known as Toronto’s vegetarian butcher shop.
Step inside, and you find a few fridges of various butcher’s fares, but done without meat. Beet patties, Tuna-less tuna salad, and all done with organic soy and pea protein, or with vegetables (And boy, do those vegetarian patties look meaty, especially those bright red beet burgers!)
However, looking at the prices of fares like this, which cater to the ever growing Vegan community, they aren’t totally off from many meat prices. $3.99/100g is the average price for some of the “beef” and “chicken” flavours, and after purchasing a couple hundred grams of a few flavours I just had to have (they were SO TASTY), I ended up with a bill over $20. This is comparable to many cuts of meat you will find in the average grocery store, where you can get a chicken for as little as $6, or a picnic roast (as I did later that day) for $7.
One could argue that the effort put into making these products taste like something they’re not (and I tell you, that szechuan beef was VERY convincing, as was the tuna-less salad, which I’ve always come back for) makes the price go up. I certainly would, there must be a lot of effort put into this!
But in the end, I guess the cost argument against buying meat doesn’t really apply anymore. So after a lovely lunch date with YamChops, I stopped by No Frills and browsed through their meat selection, eventually landing on a Picnic Roast.
Why? Well, the price was right at $7 for 1.5kg, and I was craving some pulled pork. I haven’t made pulled pork before, but I recently started making steamed buns for lunches for my partner and I, so I figured this would be a good chance to play with that recipe as well for a filling.
But why a picnic roast?
The picnic roast is part of the Pork Shoulder, and in all my recipe searchings, the part called for is a shoulder piece (though preferably a Butt piece, which I explain in a moment). This piece comes with the bone, which is perfect, because I wanted to get every bit of goodness out of this piece of meat that I could. I also wanted to render the fat down to use in my steamed bun recipe, just to add a bit more flavour.
Pork shoulder cuts are usually a tougher calibre of meat, because the muscle is exercised. In all my life, I’ve always been confused about the names of animal cuts. This picnic roast, for instance, threw me for a loop, and I had to do a quick search on google to remember that the Picnic roast, or Picnic Ham, is more the lower part of the pig’s shoulder, while the Butt (isn’t that a great name?) is higher up (“Pork 101: Know Your Cuts”, 2014). The higher up the cut, as the Butt is, the more tender it is. However, a shoulder is still a shoulder, and is still tough from being used. Fortunately there is good marbling to add flavour (as you can see in the picture above), so the best way to approach a cut like this is to use a low and slow method of cooking. Braising is a great method as well, as you get to keep the moisture content high will infusing all the juices together into a beautiful… well, sauce? Glaze? Anything you want in the end! The point is you want to be gentle with this cut, ease it into tenderness and allow it time to come to temperature and cook. Otherwise, it will toughen up even more, and you’ll end up with Jerky! (Mmm, jerky)
Pork is an interesting animal. It’s the most widely eaten meat in the world, yet some religions forbid it’s consumption because it isn’t Kosher or Vital (“Religious Beliefs of Eating Pork”, 2017). It’s leaner than beef (when trimmed)(surprising, I know), but also higher in cholesterol and saturated fat. It’s also the great inspiration for Charcuterie, a culinary world made up largely of cured hams and terrines (“Pork”, 2017). There are five breeds of pig raised in Canada (which is the third largest producer in the world of pork with over 7,000 farms), all of which are often bred together to increase their litter size (Blair, n.d). Much like Chicken and Salmonella, there is a danger in undercooked pork called Trichinosis, which is an infection of a kind of tapeworm, but the risk of contracting Trichinosis has decreased greatly over the years with increased inspection of Pork processing and suppliers.
I have faith in the Canadian Pork industry, so I’m not too worried about this picnic roast of mine. After getting home, I looked around for a few recipes for pulled pork, eventually deciding to do a bit of a mashup of treatment and ingredients. I was also going to render off some of the excess fat so I could use it in my steamed buns recipe. I want to use as much of this piece as possible, both for monetary reasons (Okay, this wasn’t THAT much money, but I hate to waste even a penny of food!) and out of respect for the animal (It’s a shame to throw any part away- Bones are for broth, fat can be used in pans or sauces, skins for hides, etc etc. If an animal is going to be slaughtered, respect it and use it all!). All of this would require the use of my Instant Pot, which is nice, because I don’t use it enough!
The roast comes with it’s skin and a thick layer of fat, as well as the bone in. First, I trim off that skin and fat (I’ll be rendering that while this thing brines for a few hours), and then put together my brine: 1 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and a healthy few dashes of liquid smoke. The liquid smoke is what turned my brine fluid opaque, there’s so much of it! This brine, I hope, will add a nice flavour to the roast, as well as tenderize it a little bit. It’s going to sit in this bath for a few hours while I get the fat rendered down.
So render the fat, I cut the fat I just trimmed off into smaller pieces and put it into my instant pot on the slow-cooker mode for a couple hours, adding a 1/4 cup of water to keep things from getting dried out in the early part of the cooking (it evaporates anyway).
This, as you can see, really transforms those chunks of fat into liquid gold. I get about a half a cup in the end, which is about what I need for my buns recipe!
Then it’s down to the Pork. I let it sit in it’s brine for about five hours before putting together the dry rub and the sauce. I’ve decided I want to use my Gochujang, a spicy korean red pepper sauce.
Using a recipe I found online, I whipped up a dry rub and sauce. After draining the roast from it’s brine, I rub the dry spices of Onion Powder, Red Pepper Powder, Salt, Pepper and some pureed Garlic all over the meat. The sauce is the Gochujang, white wine vinegar, sugar, and a bit of molasses (because I love it). I put the meat into the instant pot, pour the sauce over, and set it on low for nine hours. By the morning the cooking was done.
Looking into the pot first thing, I was worried. There was a lot of sauce on the bottom, and that meat didn’t look like it was going to just call off the bone. I wasn’t TOTALLY wrong. I decided to turn the meat over to see how it would coat with the sauce, but as soon as I touched it, a piece fell off. Perfect!
I took the meat out and shredded it off the bone, finding that some meat by the bone put up a bit of a fuss coming off, but the rest was pure gold- Juicy, sweet, and begging for more sauce. While I was doing this, I set the sauce on a simmer to see if it would thicken or reduce. I did this for maybe ten minutes before turning it off and adding the pulled pork back in. With a quick stir I learned, there was definitely enough sauce!
This stuff came out pretty well. It’s super spicy (just at my personal threshold), and begs for a cool and creamy coleslaw to compliment and help take the edge off a bit, and some buns. I have neither right now, but I bet with some julienned cabbage and peppers, this will make a great stuffing for my steamed buns!
Korean Pulled Pork
A spicy, delicious sandwich filling just begging for all your veggies to come along for the ride
- 1 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 2-3 Tbs Liquid Smoke
- 4 Quarts of water Dry Rub:
- 1/4 Cup Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Korean Red Pepper Powder
- 1 Tbs Onion Powder
- 3 cloves Garlic, rasped
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/4 tsp Black Pepper Sauce:
- 1/2 Cup Gochugaru
- 1/2 Cup White Wine Vinegar
- 3 Tbs Molasses
- 1/4 Cup Sugar
- 1.5 kg Pork Picnic roast (or other shoulder cut)
Trim the pork of excess fat and skin.
Mix ingredients for the brine together well, until the salt and sugar dissolve, in a large bowl or plastic bag. Place the meat in the brine, adding more water if need to cover the meat. Let sit in the fridge for at least 5 hours, though overnight is best.
Put together the dry rub ingredients in one bowl, and the sauce ingredients in another.
Once the meat has sat, discard the brine and pat dry. Rub the dry spices all over the meat, massaging it in, and place into a slow cooker. Pour the sauce over the meat. Put a lid on your cooker, and set on low for nine hours.
After nine hours, remove the meat (carefully, it may fall apart on you!) and put on a cutting board. Remove the bone (if using a picnic roast) and start tearing apart the meat. While you’re doing this, set the cooker on high or move the sauce into a pot and let boil for ten minutes.
Once this is done, put the pulled pork back into the sauce, tossing to coat. It’s ready to eat!