Ask Peter: Pulled pork
Could you tell me the best way to cook pulled pork? I tried just roasting it very slowly in the oven, and although it was tender, it was also dry. Mavis
There’s much to be debated about with pulled pork, from the cut (I prefer shoulder or belly) and the cooking method (it originates from the southern American states and is barbecued slowly over charcoal at a low temperature) to the flavourings — should it be packed full of powdered garlic and dried herbs (no thanks) or just a little sugar, salt and smoked paprika (yes please).
In my mind, I cook pork the same way as I do a lamb shoulder if I’m wanting the meat to be tender, stringy, moist and juicy. We occasionally make a samosa at The Providores that was created by one of our ex head-chefs, Cristian Hossack, who is now head chef at Casita Miro on Waiheke.
Crisso marinated the lamb shoulders in plenty of Indian spices and then slowly cooked them, covered with foil, for an eternity. The slow cooking and sealed-in atmosphere ensured that the flavour and moisture was retained. He’d take them from the oven, pull out the bones as it’s easier to cook them on the bone, we’d all eat quite a lot of it, then whatever was left would be pulled apart, mixed with diced cooked potatoes and peas and get wrapped up in brick pastry and deep-fried. Served with yoghurt and pomegranate molasses they were the best “samosas” in London, even if the pastry was totally inauthentic.
But I digress. You want to know about pulled pork. I’d suggest you use pork shoulder, either on or off the bone— although the latter will take up less space in your oven. If you’ve got an organic or free-range beauty, which will be full of delicious porky flavour, you might want to keep the flavours quite simple when cooking it and serve with a variety of tasty salads and dressings.
In this case, you needn’t take the skin off, but simply slash it 5mm deep through the skin. In this case I’d rub an average-sized shoulder in a mixture of 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 Tbsp coarse flaky salt (use ½ if using fine salt) and 2 tsp smoked paprika. If you want to go crazy with flavours like the beforementioned dried garlic or a premade barbecue spice mix, then you’re best to remove the skin completely as it forms a barrier between meat and flavour.
Turn the oven to 220C, fan-bake. In a deep-sided roasting dish, sit the shoulder on a few peeled and sliced carrots and onions, along with a few star anise, a cinnamon stick and a head of roughly chopped unpeeled garlic. Or simply sit it on a rack. Add ¾ cup water to the dish and then lay a sheet of baking paper loosely on top of the meat, don’t press it down. Seal the dish with a double layer of foil, avoiding pressing down too much as you want to “air” to circulate around the meat.
You can also use a turkey oven bag quite successfully. Sit the roasting dish in the middle of the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 140C and cook for 2 hours per kg, plus 30 minutes. Once it’s ready, remove the foil and paper, turn the meat over and cook another 20 minutes.
Take the meat from the oven and leave to cool until you can handle it safely, then tear the meat apart using a combination of your hands, tongs, and 2 large forks. Place the meat in a bowl and strain some of the cooking juices over it — you might want to use all of it as it’ll be quite tasty, but it depends what you’re planning to do with the meat. Season it with salt and it’s ready to eat.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to [email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.