Social Distancing Flattens the COVID-19 Curve — with Pulled Pork

There’s an ancient Chinese curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” To my mind, COVID-19 qualifies.

Right now, we’re all supposed to self-quarantine. The Washington Post has provided this free story, which explains why this makes sense.

At this point, the only way to slow the disease is to keep our distance from each other. This should minimize the spread of the virus, and therefore the impact to health care resources.

It’s the first time in history the whole world has been on lockdown. Think about that for a moment — but don’t think too hard. It may bake your noodle.

For now, assuming that we and our loved ones are in relatively stable situations, we need to find something to do with ourselves.

(This is rarely a problem for writers. Especially writers who like to cook. More on that below.)

Before we get into today’s recipe, please:

  • Make sure you have plenty of food on hand. We don’t know how long this will go on. Best err on the side of caution.
  • If you depend on any special medications, call your pharmacy and make sure they have them stocked. See if you can get them delivered.
  • Check in with any elderly people you may know who may be alone. The elderly are especially at risk during this pandemic.
  • Make sure your kids are drinking plenty of fluids and washing their hands frequently. Also, there will be homeschooling needs to attend to. Discuss what’s going on with them. My seven-year-old son has no context to put this in. For him and his generation, this sort of thing could wind up being normal.

PREPARATIONS FOR QUARANTINE

This article from CNET is pretty thorough and might be worth your time to read.

And now …

If you’re up for some time in the kitchen, consider making a big ol slow cooker full of pulled pork. It’s delicious, and makes plenty of meals, which you can always freeze for consumption.

Say yes to the crock pot. Yeeeeeesssssssss!

Best of all, this is simple to make. Total prep time usually comes to about 20 minutes. That’s a lot of bang for your buck.

Once you’ve got your slow cooker going, you can get right back to the typewriter.

The 1958 Alpine Blue Smith-Corona Silent-Super. In my humble opinion, an exquisite example of mid-20th century American-made manual typewriters.

Bonus: This recipe also makes your kitchen smell like a Dallas barbecue pit. And that ain’t bad.

So here we go:

A POT FULL OF PULLED PORK

Please note: I’ve compiled a complete list of ingredients at the end of this post.

The most important thing you’ll need is a picnic cut of pork shoulder. Which, if we’re speaking frankly here, is basically a massive bone-in hunk of fatty pig butt.

Fatty. Bone-in. Pig. Butt.

Make sure you get a cut of meat that’s approximately five pounds. This recipe calls for four pounds but our first step will be:

1. Trim the skin and the fat off your cut.

This will drop the weight of your meat cut fast. And you won’t eat the bone, so there’s more weight gone. Therefore, a five pound hunk should be perfect.

Warning: The skin and fascia of can be tough to wrangle off a cut of pork shoulder. I recommend using a sharp paring knife. Proceed slowly and carefully.

When you’re finished, you’ll probably be left with offal:

No, that’s not a football. But yes, it’s pig skin. Complete with gory hunks of pig fat.
Anyone have suggestions on how to make use of this stuff?

A lot of barbecue purists don’t remove the skin and subcutaneous fat. It’s a matter of preference. I take it off in the beginning.

You don’t have to worry about removing the bone from your cut. It comes out on its own if you follow this recipe as written.

2. Coat the bottom of your slow cooker with vegetable oil.

Not too much now. A tablespoon should do it.

3. Pour in your barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, and dry yellow mustard.

I was out of dry yellow mustard so I substituted a commensurate amount of Trader Joe’s Whole Grain Dijon. Probably won’t be as powerful. Ah well. Odd times, odd measures.

Go ahead and give this concoction a good stir before you:

4. Place your pork butt directly in the broth.

5. Set your cooker to LOW for ten to twelve hours.

But wait. We’re not done yet — just getting the slow cooker going so we can move to Step 6.

6. Dice your onions and garlic, and add them to the pot.

This is the part that always makes me cry. Onions and I don’t mix. I love to eat them. Not so thrilled about cutting them.

When you’ve processed your vegetables, go ahead and mix them around with the broth.

There. Doesn’t that look lovely? Wait’ll you smell it cooking.

7. Put the lid on your slow cooker and go back to writing.

Or any other activity you enjoy.

Remember I said don’t worry about it if you can’t get the bone out of your meat? That’s because, during cooking, as the meat breaks down, it stops to pop out on its own. Look here:

That’s the bone.
It’ll pull right out once the meat gets supple enough, no worries.
That marrow is delicious, by the way.

Once the meat has cooked for four or five hours:

8. Grab two forks and use them pincer-style to shred the meat.

This is why we call it PULLED PORK. We literally pull it apart.

Some folks do this by taking the meat out of the pot and shredding it on a large cutting board. I find this gets messy, especially when you’re working in a small urban kitchen.

Instead, I do this right in the pot. Since I’m doing a long slow cook, the meat gets tender enough that it falls apart when you poke it a bit.

Just be careful not to slosh too much of the juice out of your slow cooker. (All too easy to do, I’m afraid.)

Yesssssss, pulled pork. Yeeeeesssss!

Once your meat has broken down, you can scoop out the bones. Easy peasy.

When you’re all finished, let your meat macerate thoroughly. The more maceration, the better the flavor.

Also, as with most meals done in a slow cooker, this one tastes best after it’s been refrigerated. The change in temperature seems to deepen the maceration and richer flavor results. I’m not sure why.

Try this yourself and let me know what you think.

You can serve pulled pork over greens or rice. But — let’s face it — the best way to eat it is on a nice soft roll.

However you like it, make sure you have lots of wet-naps around. It’s barbecue, after all!

Here’s wishing you and your family health and security during these interesting times. Happy quarantine!

Damon DiMarco

Ingredients:

  • About 4 pounds of pork shoulder
  • 2 large onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • Barbecue sauce (1 cup)
  • Apple cider vinegar (1/2 cup)
  • Brown sugar (1/3 cup)
  • Chili Powder (1 tbsp)
  • Thyme (2 tsps)
  • Dry yellow mustard (1 tbsp)
  • Worcestershire sauce (1 tbsp)
  • Vegetable oil (just enough to coat the bottom of your slow cooker)

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Damon DiMarco

Damon DiMarco (born October 16, 1971), is a New York City author, actor, playwright, and historian. His oral history work has been compared to that of Studs Terkel. He was born in Princeton, New Jersey.

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