Meanwhile…Garden Benedicts and Microjams

One of the expressions we use around here when it comes to playing in the kitchen is “think like a carney”. In other words, just because something seems improbable (fried butter?  What?), doesn’t mean it won’t turn out amazing. So with the boys out of town this week, it’s the perfect time to play carney because I can wreck the kitchen and none will be the wiser.

My current carneyness involves creating microbatches of jam with flavors like smoky peach bourbon, raspberry cocoa nib, and cherry limeade. Today, its smoked onion and lemon basil jam.

When I have the smokers going for other things, I like to throw on some fruit or vegetables near the end, and one thing I’ve discovered is that my culinary world is a happier place when I have smoked onions. The hits list includes Smoked French Onion soup, smoked onions with pork belly rillettes, and now smoked onion jam.

On its own the flavor is pretty fantastic, though not in a “lets put this on toast!” kind of way. More of a “great! I have this smoked onion jam! What am I gonna do with it??” way. The answer? Make a garden Benedict with the jam and some of the greens that showed up in our CSA share this week.

Excluding the English muffin and the egg (Have I confessed yet how much I loathe soft egg yolks?), there are 3 distinct components to this dish: the onion jam, the hollandaise, and the greens. The recipes for each follow, though I’m feeling pretty proprietary about the jam. Assembly is easy: toasted muffin, onion jam, greens, egg, sauce and tada! Garden Benedict.

Smoked Onion Jam

Makes one small jar

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Ingredients

  • 1 small smoked onion
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1/4 cup lemonade
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 6 leaves lemon basil

Instructions

Melt butter in a small pot over low heat

Cut onion in half, then into thin slices

Add onion and sugar to the melted butter

Sauté onion in the butter, over low heat until it caramelizes. This will take anywhere from 20-30 minutes, depending on the sugar content of your onions.

When onion is caramelized, add honey, lemonade and salt. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until mixture has jelled a bit (test it on a plate. If it isn’t running, it’s done)

Shred the lemon basil

Turn off the heat, stir in the basil, and let sit until cool enough to taste. Adjust salt and lemon if/as needed (use lemon zest if you want it a bit brighter)

Mixed greens

Makes enough for 2 Benedicts

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup fresh arugula
  • 1/4 cup fresh mustardy greens such as mizuna
  • 1 Tbs good balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs good olive oil (I used one that is basil-infused, and it worked particularly well with this dish)
  • Salt and pepper TT

Instructions

Shred greens into bite-sized pieces, toss together with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper

–This was really good right out of the bowl. No Benedict required

Hollandaise

Enough for 2 Benedicts

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs plain vinegar (or lemonade…I used lemonade)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbs Lemon juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbs clarified butter, melted
  • Salt and pepper TT
  • Optional: 1/4 tsp lemon juice

Instructions

Simmer onions, pepper and vinegar or lemonade in a small pan until dry but not scorched.

Add 2 Tbs of water to the pan, stir then strain the liquid into a stainless steel bowl, let cool.

In the meantime, bring a small amount of water to simmer–your stainless bowl should fit over the pot but not touch the water

Separate egg, place yolk into bowl with the cooled liquid; reserve the white for another use (or scramble it for your dogs…that’s what I usually end up doing).

Whisk egg and liquid together until they’re emulsified and just getting frothy

Place bowl over your simmering water and whisk it like you mean it. And keep whisking until the yolk thickens. If it starts to scramble, remove from the pan, turn off the simmering water, and keep whisking. Hollandaise is technique-y. If you end up with scrambled yolk, pitch it and start over–there’s no good way to recover from that.

When the yolk thickens start adding the butter a drop or two at a time, and keep whisking. If the emulsion holds, add a little more and keep whisking. After you’ve done this 2 or 3 times, and the emulsion holds (when you hear about broken hollandaise, it’s a reference to a broken emulsion. You’re trying to get fat, more fat, protein, and some acid to hold together through force of will and whisking power), add the remaining butter and a bit of salt and pepper–whisking all the while.

Taste your hollandaise and whisk in some lemon juice if desired.

Finally,

Assemble your Garden Benedict; share if you’re nicer than I am.

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Welcome to North Carolina: The Tar Heel State

Turns out it's in North Carolina.

Turns out it’s in North Carolina.

This is the part where normally I would be telling stories and talking about North Carolina history. Just getting home from a trip to Asheville (the Austin of the East, Austin being the Portland of the Southwest), though, I’d rather talk about the food. Especially the barbecue. If you’re interested in the history of this iconic food,  I’ve written before about the migratory history of barbecue. However, if you’re interested in a look at how the Southern barbecue tradition has roots in the slave trade, there’s a terrific and compelling read here. North Carolina is home to two distinctive styles of barbecue: Eastern, which uses the whole hog and Western, which focuses on the shoulder. Their commonality is that both are made and served with a vinegar-based sauce, made with tomato in the west, without tomato in the east. I’m just gonna put it out there that the NC vinegar-style sauce is hands-down my favorite. I love the vinegary bite of it against the smoky sweetness of the pork. It enhances the flavor without covering it up with a lot of sweetness. Asheville, as befits our barbecue designations, is very much western NC; the farthest east we ventured was Lexington which is generally considered to be the demarcation line between eastern and western styles. So really, this is a post about Western-style North Carolina barbecue. Pulled pork is one of my favorite things. When done well, it has a rich porky flavor that is enhanced by smoke and whatever rubs the pit master uses to demonstrate their crafts. In the next post, I’ll share my own rub recipe and talk a little bit about classic backyard barbecue. Until then, a quick look at some of the things we ate last week.

Pulled pork and brisket sliders at Hubba Hubba. Served with a side of warm Asian slaw.

Pulled pork and brisket sliders at Hubba Hubba. Served with a side of warm Asian slaw.

Our dinner guests at Hubba Hubba.

Our dinner guests at Hubba Hubba.

Hotel 'cue. It was significantly better than I expected it to be.

Hotel ‘cue. It was significantly better than I expected it to be.

Did I remember to take a picture of my ribs?  Of course not. I was too busy eating them.

Did I remember to take a picture of my ribs? Of course not. I was too busy eating them.

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Lexington Barbecue is a can’t-miss dive-on-the-side-of the road barbecue joint. Pitmaster Rick was friendly, personable, and a master of his craft. And the waitstaff is out of this world.

Chopped, pulled pork, and my favorite of them all.

Chopped, pulled pork at Lexington. I have to say that this was my favorite of them all. My traveling companion, on the other hand, wasn’t a fan of the chopped style.

Don't forget the hush puppies!

Don’t forget the hush puppies!

No barbecue here, just killer biscuits at Biscuitheads

No barbecue here, just killer biscuits and a gravy flight at BiscuitHeads

Pulled Pork (Barbecued Pork Shoulder)

Pulled pork. I love pulled pork. I spent years avoiding all pork due to a bad childhood experience, and only in recent years have I begun to recant my ways. North Carolina-style barbecued pork had a lot to do with my change of heart. What I like about it is that the saucing is kept to a minimum, and the sauce itself is a snappy, spicy vinegar-based product that bears no resemblance to the sweeter, heavier sauces used in Memphis, Kansas City, and other places of barbecue repute. The light saucing allows the smokiness and porky flavor to shine. And really, I’m not much of a sauce girl when it comes to most things, so the appeal is kind of a given.

Pulled pork, despite seeming magically complicated, is one of the easiest things you’ll ever make (you can even do it in a crock pot), and one of the best cuts for learning how to work a smoker. It’s forgiving, adaptable to a lot of different rubs and cooking methods, inexpensive, and doesn’t hit the dreaded stall that you get when you barbecue a beef brisket. Nor does it dry out the way a rack of St. Louis style spareribs can. If you’re interested in learning to smoke meat, this is the place to start.

Before we get to the recipe, there are a couple of things to discuss: the meat and the smoker. I’m tucking it into a separate post because it’s a lengthy discussion that experienced barbecuers may not need or want to read through.

Although this dish is almost entirely technique-driven, there are some elements that bump up the flavor of your end result. Dry rub is one of these, and while I’ve included my recipe, there are many commercially available products that you can choose from.

Mops are another flavor element that some pitmasters use to insure a moist product. Apple juice and apple cider vinegar are common, as is beer. I don’t use mops, because I prefer a dryer bark (the crust that forms from the rub) and I find that the shoulder is fatty enough to not need extra moisture. Like the dry rubs, mops are commercially available and include suggestions for use.

North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

3-4# Pork shoulder

3 tbs coarse salt

1/4 cup yellow mustard

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2-1 cup dry rub∞

Wood chunks*

Charcoal (I much prefer the lump to the briquettes. It burns slower and cleaner)

Sauce∞

∞Dry Rub

  • 1 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup ground cumin
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbs finely ground coffee

Mix together and store in an airtight container in a dry, cool place. Keeps indefinitely (but loses potency).

∞Vinegar Sauce

  • 1 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Optional: add up to 1/2 cup ketchup to your sauce if you like a bit of tomatoey-ness

Mix ingredients together in a saucepan, simmer over medium for 10 minutes. Let cool before serving.

Smoking Instructions

Trim excess fat from the exterior of your pork shoulder. Ideally, you’ll have a 1/4-1/2″ fat cap

Fresh pork shoulder, fat side (fat cap) up

Fresh pork shoulder, fat side (fat cap) up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coat the exterior with coarse salt, and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.*

Pork shoulder, fat cap down, salted

Pork shoulder, fat cap down, salted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, prepare your smoker by lighting a batch of charcoal (I use a chimney starter, then empty the hot coals into my fire box). When coals are ready, transfer to the smoker (if using a chimney starter) and close the lid(s). Use the vents and chimney to preheat your smoker to between 225-250º. You want to keep it in this temp range for the entire smoke period. I usually keep a spray bottle of water on hand to cool it down if it creeps above 275º.

When the smoker is ready, mix the mustard and canola oil together, then rub the pork butt with the mixture*

Plain yellow mustard and canola oil blend

Plain yellow mustard and canola oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add the dry rub, making sure to get it in the crevices

Make sure you get your rub into all of the little nooks and crannies

Make sure you get your rub into all of the little nooks and crannies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transfer to your smoker, fat-side up

If you’re using a fire box, close the lid and add your smoking wood to the fire. If you are using the indirect in-grill method (where the fire is off to the side of, though never directly under the meat), add your wood to the fire then close the lid.

For smoking, keep an eye on the smoke coming from the chimney. When it is no longer woodsmoke (you can tell by the smell) add more wood/chips. I usually add smoke for the first hour. After that, you start to risk over smoking your meat depending on the kind of wood you’re using. Hickory, for example, is a dominant flavor that can lead to unpleasantness if overdone. Mesquite is my go-to for most meats, though for pork I will occasionally use pecan, cherry or apple.

Walk away. Unless you need to open the smoker to add wood or coal, don’t open it! A quick look will cost you 50-100º and require a fair bit of recovery time, so don’t give in to the compulsion to “just check it real quick”.

Check your smoker temperature periodically–I usually aim for every 45 minutes or so, and add coals/adjust vents as needed.

A 3-4# pork shoulder will take 5-7 hours at 250º. Pulled pork is best when cooked to an internal temperature between 190-210º so you won’t need to take its temperature until that 5-hour mark. Even better is a probe-style thermometer that attaches to an external monitor. It will allow you to keep an eye on the temperature without losing precious heat.

I peeked, so you don' t have to

I peeked, so you don’ t have to

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the internal temperature has reached at least 190º, pull the pork and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.  AT LEAST.

When it is cool enough to handle, it should shred easily with a pair of forks.

Resist the urge to eat it all before sharing it with your family and friends

After the meat is shredded, you can sauce it all or serve it at the table with sauce on the side. If vinegar sauce isn’t your thing, use what you like. My experience has been that barbecue sauce preference is wildly personal, so go with what makes you happy.

Slow-Cooker Instructions

Note: If you’re making this in your slow-cooker, omit the mustard and oil and add 1/2 cup cider vinegar plus  2 tbs tomato paste.

Trim off most of the visible fat–since slow-cooking is essentially braising, you won’t need the added moisture that the fat cap provides.

Sprinkle pork shoulder with salt

Rub pork with your rub mixture

Place pork in crock of your slow-cooker, fat-side down. (You may choose to place 2-3 thick onion slices on the bottom, as it will help reduce hot spots/burning)

Mix vinegar and tomato paste together, pour over the top.

Cover and let let cook on low for 6-8 hours, until the meat shreds easily with a fork

So what should you do with all of this pulled pork you just made? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Eat it with your fingers
  • Eat it with a fork
  • Make sandwiches with or without slaw
  • Tamales
  • Dumplings
  • Nachos
  • Noodle bowls
  • Pulled Pork Benedict

Notes

I prefer wood chunks to chips because they burn slower and longer. That said, chips work fine, too.

Don’t omit the salt step–it provide essential flavoring to the meat. Salt is also generally considered to be the only seasoning that can penetrate into the meat, so while I recommend a 30-minute rest with the salt, you can leave it on longer if time permits.

The vinegar in the mustard helps release the aromatics in your rub while the oil helps to create the crust.