Roast Shredded Pork Butt

Today we’re eating the pork in tacos, so it will be seasoned accordingly, but you could use the same cooking process for a barbequed pork sandwich by switching out the seasonings for barbeque sauce or rub.

The closest grocery store is a New York-based chain (going nameless here) that is a little upscale, and you can seldom find the right pork cut for this dish, because they must have some sort of bias against too much pork fat. Rarely you can find a bone-in pork shoulder, which also works, and probably the bone adds good flavor to the meat, but I have a bias for the boneless roast all neatly encased in that stretchy elastic web. So, I more often shop for meat at the local Giant Eagle or Walmart where the boneless shoulder or butt is always available. Maybe it’s the butt name that the high-end store finds distasteful, even though it comes from the shoulder. Hey, where did the butt name come from, anyway? Let’s ask Wikipedia.

The pork butt in Walmart is from Tyson®—is that the company from Arkansas or Georgia? (two states in which I have lived)—and I have to say that their netting is a little looser than most. At first I thought it was odd, but it turns out that it roasts the meat more quickly, so it has become my first choice.

Roast Shredded Pork Butt

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Preheat oven: 350°

  • 3.5 lb boneless pork shoulder (leave the elastic netting on)
  • 3 cloves peeled garlic
  • Lots of salt and pepper

Place the pork butt in a roasting pan in which it is not crowded or touching the sides of the pan, where it will stick and burn. Cut the garlic cloves into about 3 slivers each and place them in cuts all over the top of the roast. I stick in a sharp paring knife, turn the blade 90°, then slide the garlic in next to the blade. Leaving the blade in makes it easier to slide the garlic in. Sprinkle liberally with salt and cracked pepper, cover and place in oven at 350° for about two hours before checking for doneness. After two hours, if it seems to be close to that falling apart stage, you can remove it to a cutting board and remove the netting for the third hour. Sometimes the roast will fall into big pieces when the netting is removed; sometimes not. Roast for about another hour, checking halfway to see if it’s ready to shred with a fork. I don’t know what happens on those days when it takes much longer or those days when it cooks more quickly. I suggest you make it on a day when you are flexible and unstressed. If you think the meat is unusually dry or your oven is super hot, you could add a little water to the bottom of the pan, but don’t overdo that. You want primarily roasted meat, not braised.

Remove the meat to a cutting board and shred with two forks. What you do next depends on how you want to eat it.

My roasting pan is one of those cheap dark blue speckled things. They are not heavy pans and that surely has an effect on cooking time and the final product. If you are lucky enough to have a covered enameled cast iron roaster, you might know how that changes the whole process. I looked at Le Creuset roasters earlier this summer and confirmed that I can’t afford one.

Shredded Pork Tacos

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3.5 lb cooked shredded pork butt
  • 2 onions, chopped and sautéed in olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (why do I only have ground oregano in the cupboard today?)
  • 2 dried ancho peppers, reconstituted and puréed ( about 1 cup, see below)
  • 1 small can chopped green chiles
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Soft taco flour tortillas or corn tortillas/taco shells
  • Condiments: queso fresco, avocado slices or guacamole, green or red salsa

You could do lots of things differently here. You could use a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, which has a nice smoky flavor and is hotter than the ancho purée. I like the combination of the ancho purée and the canned green chiles; I like the brightness of those canned chiles. You could use a shredded cheddar cheese and shredded lettuce and tomato for a traditional taco flavor, but I like the mild creamy crumbled queso fresco and avocado. Whatever you use, the steps to putting it together is quick once the meat is cooked and shredded. You could do that a day in advance.

  1. Sauté onions until translucent over medium heat
  2. Add cumin and oregano, salt and pepper, stirring for 1-2 minutes
  3. Add ancho purée and bring to boil
  4. Add  canned chiles and  shredded pork to sautéed mixture and heat

I don’t think I need to tell you how to put tacos together.

Leftovers: This recipe makes a huge bowl of shredded meat. If you have leftovers, you could eat them with red beans and rice, or even some polenta.

Reconstituted Dried Chiles

We lived in Texas for three years after grad school and got used to Tex-Mex cuisine, so I had to learn how to use dried chiles, because, for one thing, THERE ARE NO TOMATOES IN CHILI. I have no problem with beans in my chili, but there should be no tomatoes. Don’t argue with me on this point. Eventually, I will share my chili recipe.

  1. Rinse dried chiles, remove stems and seeds
  2. Tear into pieces so it fits in a small container or bowl
  3. Cover with boiling water; cover container with plastic wrap
  4. Set aside for about 45 minutes
  5. Place reconstituted chiles in blender with part of the liquid, adding more as needed to make a purée about the consistency of tomato juice (ironic, isn’t it?)
  6. Strain puree through a fine strainer to remove large pieces of pulp

You can’t keep this purée or freeze it, as it will separate and just not be the same. I have a cup that came with a long-gone hand blender that I always use for soaking the chiles. It holds two cups of water. For seasoning the tacos, I used only 1 cup of water for two chiles.

Chicken Coconut Curry

I haven’t made a curry in a long while, but when I picked up coconut milk for the 4th of July coconut cream pie, I accidentally picked up one can of the lite version with one can of the regular—who would use light coconut milk? Ended up going to a different store for the Goya® brand I wanted, so I bought two, which left me with two cans, one regular and one light. Hence, the curry.

My Chicken Coconut Curry is a version of this recipe——but I’m iffy on the yogurt and lemon as being too tangy, and I would like more vegetables in the curry, maybe snow peas. Let’s see what looks good at the grocery store.

Snow peas it is! I made a number of other changes to the recipe including adding garam masala, instead of the called-for cinnamon, along with the regular curry powder and cooking the dish in layers. Cooking in layers instead of throwing everything together at once, is probably a change I am most likely to make to recipes that I adapt. I like building flavors separately before combining them in the final step.

Other than my changes to the ingredients list, the browning of the chicken makes the biggest change. The recipe calls for dumping everything, raw chicken and all, into the sauce, and I don’t really like the image of the gray chicken that would result. Maybe I’m not a curry purist, but browned chicken adds much more flavor, including from the browned bits in the bottom of the pan, in which the onions are cooked. This step, plus the addition of chicken stock instead of yogurt, might make the sauce lean toward being more of a gravy, but we loved it.

Chicken Coconut Curry

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

4-6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 small onions, small dice

3 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1.5 tablespoons regular curry (hotter if you like that)

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 teaspoon paprika (mine was smoked)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 13 oz. can coconut milk, unsweetened

1-3 cups chicken broth or bouillon—I used Better Than Bouillon® chicken base, using two cups for the rice and one for the curry

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in half-inch cubes

1.5-2 cups whole snow peas, cleaned with any strings removed

Rice—I had arborio and made it in a rice cooker

It looks like a lot of ingredients, but most of them are spices and aromatics. The dish goes together more quickly than you might think. These initial preparation steps might take 15 minutes:

  1. Begin the rice—mine cooked in less than 30 minutes, but you should plan for your type of rice and method of cooking
  2. Dice and grate the aromatics
  3. Mix the spices and seasonings together
  4. Clean the snow peas and set aside
  5. Brown the chicken in 4 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside—do not overcook, as the chicken will be added to the sauce for another 10-15 minutes

In the pan where you browned the chicken, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions until translucent, then add the garlic, ginger, tomato paste, bay leaf, and spices. Stir over heat for a minute or two to release spice oils and distribute the tomato paste. Add coconut milk and 1 cup of chicken bouillon. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the browned chicken to the sauce, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Confession: I thickened the sauce after adding the chicken with a little cornstarch/water mixture. This is probably not a traditional curry step (I don’t know), but I liked the result.

Sprinkle the snow peas over all, cover and simmer for about 5 more minutes or until snow peas are crisp tender. I add these last to avoid overcooking the snow peas.

Serve over rice. *The recipe would serve four if my husband is not one of them and allowed to fill his own plate.

Update 2/6/14: I made this again yesterday with a few changes:

  1. For the chicken broth, I substituted 1 cup of sour cream. That meant I did not have to thicken the sauce, and it added a nice creaminess.
  2. I added one thinly sliced carrot to the onion-garlic step. The carrot adds both color and sweetness. I omitted the snow peas.
  3. I substituted one thinly sliced leek for one of the onions, mainly because I bought too many leeks the other day, but it was a good addition.


Smothered Cube Steaks

I’m beginning with this recipe for no other reason than that I made it last night. The pics are not that great, but I hope to do better later.

This recipe is a combination of a few you might know as Swiss Steak and Salisbury Steak, although the latter is supposed to be made with minced beef. Unlike most recipes for cube steaks, this recipe braises the meat in the oven until tender, which can take anywhere from 45 minutes to over an hour. I don’t consider it to be a version of Chicken-Fried Steak because there is no breading with egg, just a flour dredge, and no white gravy at the end. Still, it might have gone by that name in your house. Continue reading Smothered Cube Steaks

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