I will give you two guesses as to who picked this recipe. I handed Alex the cookbook last week and told him to pick a recipe for us to try. Both of the recipes he picked were for pork shoulder - Oven BBQed Picnic Shoulder and Easy North Carolina-Style Half Picnic Shoulder. I picked the less complicated one of the two. So I guess that means we both picked the recipe, but as with most pork recipes, Alex was the driving force behind it. So this is our second attempt at North Carolina-style pulled pork and our third attempt at cooking a pork shoulder this year. First we made Slow Cooker Pulled Pork (although it took us a little while to post about it). Then we made Jalapeno-Roast Pork. After we make this pork shoulder I might need to take a slight break from making any more pork shoulder for at least a little while. Then again, summer is perfect pulled pork/BBQ weather, so we might have one more pork shoulder in us (perhaps the Oven BBQed Picnic Shoulder) before we call it quits. I was going to serve this pork with some coleslaw, because I love pulled pork and coleslaw, but I decided that since we had Asian Winter Slaw for lunch yesterday, that was coleslaw overkill. So instead I elected to make faux-collards from another Lee Bros recipe. That sounds like a good Southern meal, right?
This dish is crazy rich. And I mean CRAZY rich. I think if we had made sandwiches and served the pork with a coleslaw and a vinegar-based bbq sauce, that would have done a lot to cut the richness. The sauce that you serve the pork with is sweet rather than sour, which doesn't do a lot to cut through the fatty pork. I will probably serve the pork again, but I will come up with another sauce (most likely a traditional eastern North Carolina-style barbecue sauce). So that is how we're going to eat the leftovers (more on the leftovers later). This cooking method kept the pork very moist, which I appreciated. Alex loved the nuggets if crispy skin that were sprinkled throughout the pork. I thought that they tasted fine, but they got stuck in my teeth. And that was just a tad too much fat for me. I thought there would be more vinegar flavor to cut through the richness of the pork, considering the pork was marinated in 2 cups of white vinegar and then basted with the vinegar-based marinade for 3 hours. And let me tell you, every time you opened up the oven to baste the pork, you got hit with a blast of vinegar. But I really didn't taste the vinegar at all until the pork had sat on the counter for an hour or so and dried out. Actually, the pork that we pulled and set aside for leftovers was arguably far more flavorful - both in terms of spice and vinegar level, than the pork that we initially served ourselves for dinner. Granted, that pork was a lot drier than the pork we ate for dinner, but I thought that given the difference in flavor I would take the drier, more flavorful meat. So I guess the lesson I learned from that is to let the meat rest longer after you pull it out of the oven (we let it sit for 10 minutes, but maybe we should have let it sit a little longer) and then pull it and let it rest a few more minutes before serving. As for the spinach, it was very Southern and it really did remind me of collards. Alex said that he liked the pork better than the spinach and I agree with that. But if we are really being honest here, since when can spinach compete with pulled pork?
Recipes after the jump!
Easy North Carolina-Style Half Picnic Shoulder
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook
By Matt Lee and Ted Lee
3 to 3 1/2 lb. half picnic pork shoulder, bone-in, skin-on (I think we ended up using Boston butt, rather than picnic shoulder, but seeing as both pieces are part of the pork shoulder, I think we're ok)
1 tsp canola oil
2 cups North Carolina-Style Barbecue Sauce (see below)
1 tbsp sorghum molasses, cane syrup or honey (we used honey)
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup apple cider
Score the skin and fat on the picnic shoulder with a sharp knife, about 3/4 inch deep. Place in a baking dish, pour the barbecue sauce over it, and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator after 4 hours, and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours before cooking so that the meat can come up to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Remove pork from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve the marinade. In a Dutch oven or ovenproof baking dish large enough to hold the meat, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When you see the first wisp of smoke, add the pork, skin side down, and sear until the skin is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn and sear all four sides until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes per side.
Pour the reserved marinade over the shoulder. Place the pork in the dish skin side up. Heat over medium-low heat on the stovetop until the marinade simmers. Transfer to the oven, cover, and bake, basting every 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer pressed into the middle of the shoulder registers 175 degrees and the pork is tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
With a turkey baster (or if you're like us and don't have a turkey baster, a ladle), transfer 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid to a small saucepan. Add the molasses/cane syrup/honey, chicken stock, and apple cider to the saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Simmer vigorously until the liquid has reduced by half, about 6 minutes. Reserve half of the sauce in a gravy boat (we don't have one so we used a small bowl). Continue the simmer the liquid remaining in the saucepan until it has reduced again by three-quarters and become a thick syrup, about 3 minutes. Baste the shoulder with the syrup, return to the oven, and turn the heat up to 425 degrees F. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes more, until the skin has a shiny, lacquered appearance.
Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest on a cutting board or rack set over a baking pan for 10 minutes. Discard the cooking liquid in the dish. Carve or pull the pork and serve with spoonfuls of the gravy.
Spinach with Collards Seasoning
The Lee Bros Simple Fresh Southern: Knockout Dishes with Down-Home Flavor
By Matt Lee and Ted Lee
2 oz slab bacon, or 2 strips thick-cut bacon, finely diced
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp crushed dried red chili flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 1/4 lbs fresh spinach, stems trimmed
Scatter bacon in a skillet set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring until just browned, about 4 minutes. Add 2 tbsp water and the vinegar, chili flakes, salt and sugar. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Add the spinach by handfuls, tossing the leaves in the skillet and adding more as they wilt, until all the spinach has wilted, about 4 minutes.