Pulled pork jokes never get old.
Let me begin by saying that I would rather have used almost any other pulled pork-themed quote than the one I chose. Unfortunately, that’s the only one I could find. That being said, I made pulled pork this week! I knew I wanted to make something with pork (the meatballs did have pork, but it was ground and didn’t really count), but I couldn’t think of many popular pork dishes that could be turned, fairly easily, into a vegetarian dish. Eventually I decided to either make pulled pork or sausage and peppers. Obviously, I chose the former, but sausage and peppers will most likely make an appearance at a later date because I already have a sausage quote on the back burner. Also, it’s delicious, but I digress.
When I settled on pulled pork as my recipe of choice, my next step was to google “vegetarian pulled pork.” The first recipe that I clicked on called for jackfruit; I figured it was a weird outlier and continued on to the next recipe which I expected would require seitan—in my opinion, seitan is the meat alternative that most closely mimics the texture of meat, which is important in a dish like pulled pork. To my surprise, almost all of the recipes called for jackfruit—canned, green (basically unripe) jackfruit to be exact.
Once I accepted that using jackfruit for pulled pork was apparently a thing and chose a recipe from Blissful Basil, I was really excited to try it out. So far this is the most bizarre ingredient I’ve tried to turn into meat, and the reviews were positive and actually from people who had tried the recipe. Sometimes a recipe has a bunch of highly-rated reviews, and they’re all people saying, “Great recipe, can’t wait to try it!” That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not useful. The commenters on the recipe I chose had been so useful that the recipe’s creator added a note based on the cooking experiences of readers.
For the real pulled pork, I used a Tyler Florence recipe that has been in my mother’s binder of recipes for over a decade. She’s been using it for so long that I have actually tried it. It’s pretty easy to make, in the sense that all you really have to do is make and apply a dry rub, cook the pork in the oven for a long, long time, and pull it apart. It ended up being not so easy for several reasons. The main issue I had was knowing how long to cook it. The recipe instructed me to cook a five to seven pound pork roast (I used Boston butt) for about six hours, at which time the pork should have an internal temperature of 170 degrees. My pork was only four pounds, because five to seven pounds of pork is an obscene amount of meat for two people, and I didn’t know how to adjust the cook time for its smaller size. According to the man in the meat department, I would know the pork was done when I could stick a fork in it and easily pull a piece off; he also said it wouldn’t really matter if it cooked slightly more or less than the recipe required.
The first step in cooking pulled pork (and, as it turns out, “pulled pork”) is making a dry rub. The spices used to season the pork were paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, dry mustard, and salt. I took a pretty picture of the spices then mixed them all together and rubbed them all over the pork roast. Then, I put the pork in the refrigerator for an hour and switched gears to make the coleslaw and barbecue sauce that would accompany the sandwiches.
I decided to make my own cole slaw because I really like my mother’s recipe, but apparently there are two homemade cole slaw recipes, and the one I actually wanted was hidden away. As a result, the note that I added about my mother’s recipes lacking important details does not apply in this instance (it still applies in general) because this was not, in fact, her cole slaw recipe.
After I called my vacationing mother to clear up the vague instructions I was working with, I added the cabbage mix, oil, vinegar (on some level, I knew this recipe was wrong when I saw that it called for white or red vinegar—I exclusively eat white coleslaw), sugar, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper to a tupperware with a lid, and then I shook it up and stored it in the refrigerator. It only ended up sitting for a few hours, as opposed to overnight as the recipe dictates, but it still turned out perfectly fine and coleslawy.
This recipe uses a vinegar-based barbecue sauce, as opposed to the sweeter kind of sauce that probably comes to mind when you think of pulled pork.
I combined the vinegar, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic (I forgot to smash it and accidentally minced it instead), cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper in a saucepan and put it on the stove over medium heat for about ten minutes. When I took the sauce off the stove, it had thickened a bit and was extremely tangy. I set the sauce aside and started on my “pulled pork.”
It took me a while to track down canned, green jackfruit. I called a lot of places; the standard grocery stores did not carry any kind of jackfruit. Then, I called Tropical Fresh, a local store that specializes in more exotic items than can be found at Stop & Shop or Adams. I was told there was canned jackfruit, but upon arrival was dismayed to find it was not green. When I called Adams, they suggested trying a Filipino grocery store up the road from their store (which I had to go to for the pork), but it wasn’t where I thought it was, and I figured it must have closed (it hadn’t; I was just lost). So I called one last store, an Asian grocery store called Welcome Oriental Grocery. When I told the lady who answered the phone what I wanted, she said that they did, in fact, carry canned, green jackfruit, and a lot of customers buy it to make vegetarian pulled pork!!!!
Before dealing with the actual jackfruit, I got everything else ready that I would eventually need. Like the pulled pork, the jackfruit also began with a dry spice rub, consisting of chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar—I omitted smoke salt because I didn’t have it and didn’t think it was so important that I needed to buy it just for this recipe.
I put the spice rub aside, chopped up some onion and garlic, and sautéed them in olive oil (we’re all experts on how to do that by this point so I won’t bore you with the details again). The regular pulled pork recipe does not include anything other than pork, and I almost skipped this step, but because I didn’t know what to expect from the jackfruit, in terms of flavor, I figured the addition of onion and garlic certainly couldn’t hurt.
While the onion and garlic were cooking, I opened my can of jackfruit. It looked kind of like canned artichoke hearts, and it tasted kind of like canned olives maybe? Or maybe it also tasted like canned artichoke hearts? In any event, it tasted neither like fruit nor pork. I rinsed and drained the jackfruit and placed it on a cutting board. Apparently, jackfruit has a core—similar to pineapple—and it needed to be cut off.
After the core was removed, I added the jackfruit to the bowl of spices and tossed everything together. The recipe didn’t say to let the jackfruit rest, but in hindsight, it might have been good to give it some time to soak in the flavors of the spices before cooking the fruit.
After being mixed with the spices, the jackfruit joined the onion and garlic on the stove and sautéed for five minutes.
At the same time, I mixed half of the barbecue sauce with a quarter of a cup of water (I separated the sauce so that there would be a vegetarian version and a pork drippings version), added it to the jackfruit, covered the pan, and let it simmer for about 25 minutes.
Once the jackfruit was done simmering, the recipe was technically finished. However, the author had added an optional step:
NOTE: you can either enjoy the “pulled pork” as is OR spread it on baking pan and bake it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Readers have reported that this makes the texture more “pork” like.
I’m a big believer in the importance of accurate textures when it comes to fake meat dishes, so I took the extra step once the real pork came out of the oven.
I took the pork out of the oven after three and a half hours, and, according to my meat thermometer, it was 170 degrees. I turned the oven off and turned the temperature dial up to 350 degrees, which is where we keep it when nothing is in the oven (this will become important later). Then I became paranoid that I would be feeding my father undercooked pork so I called my mom again. She didn’t think the pork had been in the oven long enough, and she said that 170 degrees was much lower than the internal temperature of a pork roast should be. A quick check of the internet confirmed this; the temperature needed to be in the range of 190 and 210 degrees. So back into the oven went the pork, and I left it there for another hour and half, bringing the total cook time up to five hours. Only I forgot to turn the oven back down to 300 degrees (I realized this when I put the jackfruit into the oven and didn’t have to adjust the temperature), and the pork came out with an extremely hard crust, making it impossible to use the grocery store butcher’s fork test. Also, the pan, which was covered in pork drippings, was starting to smoke.
I took the pork out of its pan and let it cool for a few minutes. Then, I took two forks, and I pulled it. Because the exterior was so crunchy, I wasn’t sure if I should put the hard parts, which were presumably very flavorful due to the rub, in with the pulled pork. I used my discretion and left some in and got rid of anything that seemed like it would cause someone to choke.
The pulled pork recipe had a whole thing about deglazing the pan to loosen the “brown bits” so that they could be added to the barbecue sauce. It was supposed to happen on the stove, but I used a disposable pan and didn’t know if I could put it on the stove. Probably I could have. But I didn’t; I just poured some boiling water into the pan and put it back in the oven for a bit then tried to scrape whatever I could get off of the bottom of the pan. The brown bits-water mixture went into a pot, onto the stove to reduce, and then was combined with the barbecue sauce that had been set aside for the carnivores. It was clear which barbecue sauce was which after adding the reduced pan juice.
My last step before assembling the sandwiches was to mix the pork and jackfruit with their respective barbecue sauces (the real pork is on the left and the vegetarian version is shown on the right, on the off chance that you can’t tell). To make the sandwiches, I piled pork and not-pork onto kaiser rolls, added a little extra barbecue sauce, and topped them with a heap of coleslaw. The coleslaw really helped to cut through the tang of the barbecue sauce.
My father and I were very happy with our sandwiches. He even had a second helping. And when my mother returned from vacation, she also gave the pulled pork a thumbs up. My one issue with the pulled jackfruit was that some of the larger pieces did not break down much and, as a result, still tasted like fruit—as I reread the recipe now, however, there was clearly a step where I was instructed to shred the jackfruit, and I have no recollection of actually doing that. Oops. I also thought that a more traditional barbecue sauce might have been better for my “pork,” but it was still really tasty just as it was and such a nice surprise that a weird can of fruit turned into something vaguely pork-like.
And I realize that this was an extremely lengthy post. The bright side is that I will be traveling in the upcoming week and will probably follow this entry with a very short post.