Year of the Pig barbecue menu (“Bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.”)
Chef’s recap of the party on Saturday:
Carolina-style pulled pork
This turned out okay. I smoked two pork shoulders (deboned, Boston butt, skin on, ~7 lbs each) overnight, but with temperatures in the teens and twenties, the smoker only hovered around 200°F. The plan was to finish the butts in the oven for a few hours, then shred and let sit in sauce on a warmer for a while before the party started. But I wasn’t really happy with how much fat rendering I had after they came out of the oven, so I put them in for three more hours, and I ended up having to shred it during the party. In the end I was still a little disappointed with the flavor, but people seemed to like it. Folks scooped it out of the serving dish faster than I could fill it up.
Ass-Kickin’ cole slaw
This is an old family recipe (meaning we saw it in a magazine a few years ago, and have since been making it every chance we get.) Unfortunately I couldn’t find my copy so I had to reconstruct it from memory and a phone call to my dad. I didn’t have any sour cream so it was a little on the dry side, but it still tasted pretty good. Extra horseradish.
Collard greens with bok choy and tofu
This is the first time I’ve ever made something up completely, no recipe or memory to guide. I needed another vegetable dish, and when I saw the collard greens at Whole Foods I grabbed two bundles along with one giant bundle of mustard greens and some bok choy, with the idea that I’d just figure something out. The bok choy was labeled “Shanghai” bok choy, because it was half the size of the other bok choy on display, but it was still about five times as large as Shanghai minis are supposed to be (in my mind, at least.)
I’ve never made greens before, but I read a half-dozen recipes on the Food Network site to get a sense for how people prepare it. There’s a lot of variety — people cook collard greens from anywhere from 5 to 50 minutes. Mustard greens are considerably more tender. I started the collards steaming with some oil and onions, water, and apple cider vinegar, added the mustard greens about 15 minutes later, then chopped up the bok choy and tossed it in towards the end. I let it sit overnight (with a few scored Thai peppers) but it still didn’t feel finished. The next day I grabbed some spicy tofu at the Chinese supermarket, chopped it up to look like bacon bits, and added it to the greens when I re-heated them.
It was very, very hard not to use bacon fat in this, but we had vegetarians coming and I had to have some pork-free dishes. The carnivores were surprised to hear it was meat-free. Mustard greens taste awesome, by the way.
Pork bao dumplings
Chicken and vegetable jiaozi dumplings
These were just out of the freezer from the Chinese supermarket. On Friday when I’d gone into the hardware store to get a new cutting board, they had a display of bamboo steamers right up front, probably because of the new year holiday. Fortuitous. These were a great space-filler in the serving schedule, though I should have bought more of the bao. They weren’t the barbecue-pork variety, instead having more of a wonton-style wad of boiled pork in the center. Still tasty. $2.50 for four 3″ buns.
Hickory-Pecan-smoked pork ribs
The ribs were something of an afterthought after all the headaches that the pulled pork gave me. I ended up leaving them in the smoker until 8pm(!) or so and then pulled them into the oven for an hour to finish. They had maybe 3-4mm of pullback from the bone and not much of a smoke ring. But, mmmm. Every time I make ribs, I’m always disappointed, and I don’t believe people (or question their taste in barbecue) when they rave about them. But I liked these. So did the crowd. I think I got a couple of marriage proposals after these went out.
I changed a few things in my process, but wasn’t methodical about it, so I hope I can reproduce the improvement. But despite the slapdash prep I have a pretty good idea of what did it. It’s a secret, of course. (Heh.) One big change was that I ran out of hickory and had to use pecan wood. I’m still getting the vacuum-sealed St. Louis-cut racks from Shaw’s (about $14) so I still have room to improve by sourcing some fresher, higher-quality meat.
Twice-cooked pork with peppers, leeks, and bamboo fungus
While I was in Shanghai last year I had a killer bacon-and-fungus dish at the corner restaurant on our office block on Fuzhou Lu. I ordered off the menu by picture, so I have no idea what the dish was called. In my old Szechuan cookbook I found something that looked almost right, minus the fungus: Twice-cooked pork, so named because you boil the bacon for a few minutes to cook it halfway before frying it in the wok.
I had a rough time finding bamboo fungus in Cambridge. My usual go-to Chinese grocery didn’t carry it, but with the help of this awesome guide to Chinese groceries in Boston, I targeted Ming’s Supermarket on Washington as the most likely place to have them, and sure enough they did. The fungus is dried and packaged with the biggest packet of dessicant I’ve ever seen — the size of an apple, no lie. I soaked the fungus for about 20 minutes, blanched it, then trimmed off the messy net portions and sliced the gauzy stems into 2-inch strips. It went into the wok with the bacon, after the peppers and leeks were already soft.
This dish didn’t go out until 10pm-ish. People were getting full and only the most die-hard bacon addicts had more than a couple spoonfuls. But I was happy with how it turned out. The fungus was a hit, as it absorbed flavor and tasted more bacony than the bacon. This is the only item that had leftovers, and I’m fine with that — looking forward to eating it for lunch tomorrow.
Drinks: Beer; whiskey and green tea cocktail
I told people they didn’t need to bring anything, but it’s good they did. We built a mountain of six-packs on the back porch. By 7pm I couldn’t believe how much beer we had, and at midnight I couldn’t believe it was all gone. I was too busy to drink much but I did have a chocolate stout that Leslie brought (good, but tasted more like cold hot chocolate than beer) and a Sam Adams Double Bock from Bob (Not a fan of Sam in general, but this was good: “Ah, that’s what ‘bocky’ tastes like!”)
Trying to recreate another Shanghai experience, I brewed some green tea and iced it, then mixed it with a little well whiskey (Jack and Jim, which are wells in my book) and orange juice. People were not keen on the concept (as I wasn’t, when first confronted with it) but were pleasantly surprised with how it tasted. That might be the proverbial faint praise, but I liked it.
Dessert: Two kinds of lemon cake; Pumpkin pie
Susan has some sort of cake competition coming up; apparently she and a friend got into an argument over who could make a better lemon cake, and they decided to settle it with a Wild West-style showdown. I approve of this. Anyway, she brought two different cakes to compare and get opinions on. One was a very tasty pound cake with a nice lemon accent; the other was more like LEMON! More people seemed to prefer the intense recipe, but there was a vocal minority in favor of the subtler one. I tried to convince Susan to make both and layer the batter, or to bake separate layers and alternate them with icing, or something. But I don’t really have any cake credibility yet. I’m just a barbecue, pie, and wok man.
Kara also brought a raspberry-cream cake from Rosie’s, but we forgot to set it out. Doh!
Finally, pumpkin pie. It’s the Year of the Rat, but I didn’t want to serve actual rat. Pumpkin pie was the stand-in. Why? See below (at 0:15):
UPDATE: The YouTube video got pulled. Here’s the scene, in case you don’t have the Pulp Fiction dialogue seared into your memory already:
Vincent: Want some bacon?
Jules: No man, I don’t eat pork.
Vincent: Are you Jewish?
Jules: Nah, I ain’t Jewish, I just don’t dig on swine, that’s all.
Vincent: Why not?
Jules: Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.
Vincent: Bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.
Jules: Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ’cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherfucker.