Visiting Pitt Cue Co. got me thinking about American BBQ and specifically, pulled pork. I don’t have a smoker at home but I do have a decent Weber, which is more than capable of housing a big ol’ hunk of pig shoulder for 4 hours. In she went and out she came, alarmingly black after the allotted cooking time. This is normal. The caramelised crust or ‘bark’ is sealing in the moist, fat-bathed meat.
I gave the shoulder a good rubbing 24 hours before with a shed-load of sugar, smoky chipotle flakes, orange zest and garlic plus some ground cloves and allspice because neither ever do any wrong on the grill and they sling things off in another direction. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the rub penetrated the meat and also by how edible that crust turned out to be; crunchy umami-pork-bark.
As the meat was going to take so long on the BBQ, I made use of the oven for 4 hours too, cooking Boston baked beans. They are time consuming as the beans need soaking overnight but wow, the results are worth it.
It starts, as all the best things do, with pork. I bought a piece of smoked pork belly (readily available in Peckham but smoked bacon or pancetta would substitute well), chopped it into chunks (including the rind for extra flavour) and combined it with the beans, Worcestershire sauce, spices and molasses. The molasses is the defining feature of Boston baked beans, Boston being apparently famous for producing loads of the stuff, a fact which led to the ‘Great Molasses Disaster’ in 1919. A 2,300,000 gallon storage tank collapsed, flooding the city with a black slick, killing 21 people. Wikipedia tells us the residents claim you can still catch a whiff of molasses on a hot summers’ day.
Anyway, I can’t recommend these beans enough. They have a very ‘BBQ’ flavour from the pork fat and spices and the malty sweetness of unrefined sugars means it melds into one of the most rich and satisfying dishes I’ve ever eaten; up there with rendang and Marmite on the umami scale.
I made some pickled fennel to go with it, steeped in a mixture of pink peppercorns and citrus zests. It was very welcome alongside the richness of meat ‘n beans. We wiped the plates clean with chunks of sourdough.
(serves 2-4, depending on appetite; mine fed 4 but we had beans)
1 x bone-in pork shoulder weighing approximately 2kg
2 tablespoons chipotle flakes
Zest of 1 orange, finely chopped
200g dark brown sugar like muscovado
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 tablespoon salt
Mix all the ingredients for the rub together well, using your hands. The night before you want to cook the meat, rub it all over, liberally with the rub. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the meat from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it. Light the BBQ and when the coals are white, bank them to one side of the grill. Place the meat on the other side so that it is not sitting directly over any coals.
Cook the meat for 4 hours. Each hour, add 8-12 more coals to the pile. This should keep the temperature fairly constant. The meat will be completely black on the outside after this time; don’t worry. Remove the meat to a plate and start pulling it apart to reveal the meat within. Use two forks to shred it. Serve.
Boston Baked Beans
(serves 4 with leftovers)
500g dried white beans (I used cannelini but white kidney or haricot beans would also work)
450g piece smoked pork belly (or smoked bacon or pancetta; you want it in one piece so you can cut nice chunks), cut into chunks, including the rind.
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, diced
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and pepper
In a large bowl, cover the beans with plenty of cold water, leaving room for them to double in size. Leave to soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse the beans.
Place them in a large pan or heavy casserole dish if you have one (so you won’t have to transfer the beans when you want to put them in the oven). Cover them with water. This needs to reach 2 inches above the top of the beans. Bring to the boil and boil hard for 10 minutes, skimming off the scum. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1
If using a saucepan, now transfer to an ovenproof casserole. Add all the other ingredients but NO salt at this point. Cover and cook for 3 hours. After this time, taste and season carefully with salt (the pork will be salty). Cook, uncovered for a further hour.
4 bulbs fennel
500ml white wine vinegar
3 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)
1 scant teaspoon pink peppercorns
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Cut the fennel in half lengthways and remove the core. Slice horizontally into thin strips. Place in a colander, mix well with the salt and leave to drain for 1 hour.
Remove the zest from the lemon and orange and juice the fruits. After the fennel has finished draining, mix in the zests and pack the mix into a sterilised jar.
In a small pan combine the citrus juices, vinegar, sugar, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Heat the mixture almost to boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this over the fennel, making sure that it is all covered. Seal and allow to cool.