I keep telling myself that the little old lady didn’t mean to do it, but I’m not really sure I believe it.
It’s becoming very hard to control myself as I take my post-commute spin through the Greenmarket on Wednesday mornings. Things are really beginning to pop. Spinach, broccoli rabe and that allium the world loves to hate on, ramps are busting out all over, and I can’t stop myself from buying them.
I had all of them in my bag, plus some tomatoes, basil, a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread when I was stopped dead in my tracks last week. I was heading to Tamarack Hollow Farms for bacon, I wanted a BLT for dinner, when their sign made my stomach do a little two-step; “Suckling Pig! Today Only!” The birdies started tweeting a little more sweetly. The sun was casting rainbows in an aura around my head. And I only had $21 left in my wallet.
But Fate was on my side. The nice folk had a shoulder for exactly that amount.
Suckling pig is a very rare treat the farmer told me. Usually they’re raised to sell only to restaurants, but this one pig was deemed too big for fancy schmancy dining, and so he was there for us mere mortals to pay an arm and a leg for. I couldn’t have been happier, impulse purchasing pork has got to be one of the greatest feelings ever.
And so I set out, leaden like a mine pony, for the office. I was happy as a lark and kind of rushing when I turned the corner and was dropped like a stone by a little old lady from the Gold Coast.
Wait, what? How does one get felled by a granny?
Well, to start, one has to have fallen like a sack of potatoes in the middle of Fifth Avenue while wearing her sassy new spring shoes thus giving herself what can only be described as a shiner on her knee earlier in the week. And then one has to be perceived as walking too aggressively by an old lady with a cane who has the uncanny ability to thwack! you squarely on your already existing knee shiner while mumbling under her breath, “Ingrate!” Yeah, that’s how a full grown woman gets dropped by a granny.
Intense pain and intense embarrassment aside, I made it to the office, tucked my piglet into the community refrigerator and hoped no one would steal him. (No one did, and yes, I did go back for bacon which made the best BLTs I’ve eaten in April ever).
So, what does one do with a shoulder of suckling pig? My first thought was pulled pork, or a dark, sticky roast a la Nigel. But I eventually decided it was time to play with a concept I’ve been obsessing over since I saw it on America’s Test Kitchen; using Lapsang Suchong tea to impart a smoky, barbecued flavor to meat.
Rather than using the tea to smoke the pork, this recipe assured me that you could use it to marinate the meat. Ah yes, a much better solution. No baby sitting the shoulder meant we could go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather!
We toyed with the idea of going to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to stare at the cherry blossoms, but it turns out we didn’t need to! We’ve got one huge tree right in our front yard. As I type I can turn and stare at the ruffly, rococo, frilly pink blossoms through my window. This Brooklyn, she is a magical world!
But I digress. I rubbed my pork with the smoky marinade and allowed it to sit for 16 hours or so and then I sent him into a nice warm tea bath to braise for four hours in the oven. I wish I could share the smell with you. I’m sure that the aromas wafting out of the oven could have fooled anyone, even our local barbecue fanatic, into believing we had a nice smoky Weber going in the backyard. The tea made it smell so authentic. Apartment dwellers rejoice!
While my piggy was braising away I decided, with the boy’s enthusiastic approval, to tackle Homesick Texan’s biscuits (wow, that came out sounding kinda dirty, sorry Lisa!) and slow cook some spinach with ramps.
I was mixing the biscuit dough and kind of freaking out because it didn’t seem to be coming together all that well, when the boy came in and said, “Hey babe, relax, remember biscuits are all about Butter, Love and Everything Else.” It took me a minute, but then I turned around and saw that he was pointing to a postcard from Clinton St. Baking Co. that had made the move with us. I immediately relaxed and began to beat my biscuits (god, there’s another one).
You know, I think the great biscuit making cultures of America are propagating the notion that biscuits are hard to make, that us Northerners should stick to the fool-proof Bisquick or canned biscuit methods. I don’t know why, but there has to be a conspiracy involved, because making biscuits from scratch is so easy! Who knew? And they smell divine and taste delicious. Or maybe Lisa’s recipe is just that good. The one thing I know for sure is that you must try it. You can thank us later…
And so pork braised, biscuits beaten, spinach confited, (and no ingredients forgotten) we sat down to what the boy admitted was, “A pretty good approximation of Southern fare. I bet you could fool a few people with this!” I think that was a compliment. But I didn’t need any from him. After my first bite I was contorting myself into spirals of happiness just so as to pat myself on the back.
This was possibly the best dinner ever.
The pork fell apart at the touch of a fork. It was tender and succulent, faintly smoky, sweet, spicy and sour in exactly the right proportion, and went perfectly with my precious, tiny little bottle of the best Costa Rican salsa on the face of the planet (for those similarly obsessed a stand at the Essex St. Market recently began carrying the stuff).
But the apex of the meal came when I split open a still warm biscuit, piled a little mound of greens on one side, and topped it with a few shreds of pork.
Pure, unadulterated, porcine bliss!
Head below the jump for the recipe for City Slicker Barbecued Pork Shoulder and Confit of Spinach, Ramps & Bacon.
City Slicker Barbecued Pork Shoulder
prep time: 10 minutes ~ marinating time: at least 8 hours ~ cooking time: about 4 hours
- 2-4 lbs bone-in Pork Shoulder
- 4 Lapsang Suchong tea bags
- 2 Guajillo Chiles
- 8 cloves of Garlic
- 3 Bay Leaves
- 1 tbsp Mexican Oregano
- Tomato Powder or Tomato paste, about 1 tbsp (you could probably use ketchup here too)
- 1 tbsp Raw or Light Brown Sugar
- Olive Oil
- Vinegar (Cider, Sherry, White, whatever, or a combination)
Cut open four of the tea bags and empty into the bowl of a food processor. Add the chiles, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, the tomato product of choice, a good pinch of salt and the sugar. Add a healthy glug of olive oil and about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of vinegar. Process to form a thick paste.
Taste a very small amount (it’s pungent stuff).
Is it too sour? Add more sugar. Is it too sweet? Add more vinegar. Do you want it more barbecue sauce tasting? Add more tea or more tomato product. Use your instinct, you’ll know what you like.
Add enough water to the paste to form a sauce the consistency of loose oatmeal.
Pour the marinade into a large ziploc bag. Wash the pork shoulder and place into the bag. Moosh the pork around so that it’s completely coated in the marinade, close the bag and push out the air. Place into the fridge and allow to marinate at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.
- 1/2 cup Vermouth
- 4 Lapsang Suchong tea bags brewed in 2 cups of Boiling Water
Preheat the oven to 275°F.
Place a large ovenproof dutch oven over a medium-high flame. Add a glug of olive oil. Take the meat out of the fridge and lightly rinse the meat, reserve the marinade. Place the meat carefully into the pot and brown on all sides. When very brown remove the meat to a plate.
Carefully (and I do mean carefully) pour in the vermouth and deglaze the pan. Allow to cook down by about half. Put the meat back into the dutch oven skin side up and pour the marinade on top of it. Pour the tea over the meat. Bring to a simmer. Place the cover on the dutch oven and carefully place the dutch oven into the preheated oven.
Allow to cook one hour then baste with the cooking liquid.
Re-cover and allow to cook another hour.
Check the internal temp. If it’s below 150°F keep the temp at 275°F, if it’s over that, turn the stove as low as it can go, about 200°F. Flip the meat over so that the skin side is in the braising liquid. Allow to cook, covered, in this way for one hour.
Pull the dutch oven out of the oven and raise the temp to about 325°F. Flip the shoulder so that the skin side is up again. Place back into the oven, uncovered and cook for one hour longer.
Pull the dutch oven out, remove the meat to a plate and allow to rest at least 15 minutes.
Remove the skin and fat (unless you like it) place in the middle of the table and allow each person to pull a hunk off, or, remove the bones and pull apart with two forks. Either way, serve with a nice vinegary salsa or barbecue sauce. Enjoy!
Confit Of Spinach, Ramps & Bacon
prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 30 minutes
- 3 slices of thick cut Bacon, sliced into lardons
- 2 bunches of Ramps, well cleaned, white parts roughly chopped, greens thickly sliced
- 1 large bunch Spinach, well washed
Render the bacon in a heavy cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the bacon is crispy remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel lined plate.
Turn the heat down to low. Add the white parts of the ramps to the bacon fat and cook slowly until just beginning to relax. Add the spinach, cover and cook until limp. Mix the greens into the fat. Cook slowly for about 15 minutes.
Add the green leaves of the ramps, mix into the spinach and allow to cook until just wilted. Add the bacon back in, stir to incorporate. Turn off the heat.
To Serve: portion onto two plates with slow cooked pork shoulder and biscuits. Enjoy!