Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork

As Gill mentioned in a previous post, last weekend we went to our friend Claire’s place to put on a barbecue. It had been too long since we had done so, and Claire was kind enough to indulge us.

The recipe I’ve been using for a few years is one I found in ReadyMade Magazine, which unfortunately shut down in 2011. The article was called “How I Learned to Cook Southern-Style Barbecue on my Fire Escape” and was written by food writer, JJ Goode. Mr. Goode’s recipe is adapted from Adam Perry Lang’s book Serious Barbecue (he also happens to do the writing in that book) and is so freakin’ good that I’ve been carting the torn-out, dog-eared article around the world for the last five years.

Despite having made this dish on many occasions before, there were a few firsts this time around. For one, a whole pork shoulder (bone-in) was fairly easy to find here in Barcelona. Our local market here has a number of stands specializing in meat, and I simply walked around until I found the one that only had pork products (I’m not kidding, no other animal was represented under the glass at this place). A whole shoulder was something I had to request and pick up the next day, and 4-5 kilos worth of meat was only about €16.

Second, this was my first attempt at the low-tech version of this recipe. In the past I’ve had a digital meat thermometer as well as a grill with a temperature gauge. These tools obviously make maintaing a grill temp of 250°F and achieving an internal meat temperature of 193°F MUCH easier. This time around, I did not have these things, and the results were still as good as always, so clearly, they are nice to have, but not a requirement.

I won’t bore you with all the details of how to recreate this heavenly pulled pork (you can click through the images above), but I will note a few things that I’ve figured out over the years. I am by no means an expert, but maybe these are useful to you:

  1. Patience and planning are more important than any other skill when it comes to low and slow BBQ. Leave time for salting the meat and leave time for the mustard to tenderize the meat. Above all, you simply cannot rush magic of slow smoking, so grab a book, take a nap and be patient.
  2. Many recipes (including the one I’ve been carting around all these years) call for injecting the meat with various liquids (like apple cider) to keep it moist while it’s cooking. They are nice to do, but by no means required.
  3. The key to slowly cooking the meat is indirect heat, meaning, position the coals so they are never directly below the pork shoulder.
  4. Place an aluminum pan of water inside the grill and make sure it stays full. This water evaporates and the humid heat keeps the pork shoulder from drying out.
  5. Every time you open the grill, you lose precious heat. Remember, with a target temperature of 250°F, you don’t have much to begin with. Open it only when necessary (like adding coals, or water to your pan) but otherwise, let it be. Resist the temptation to gaze longingly at the succulent meat; there will be time for that later.
  6. When the meat is done you should not need a knife at all. You should be able to effortlessly pull out the bones and a couple of forks should be enough to pull the meat apart. If this is not happening, that meat needs to go back on the grill (probably for a few more hours).
  7. Save the bones from the pork shoulder for use in soups, gumbos, red beans and rice, etc. A couple of hours stewing with one of these bones gives virtually anything an amazing smokiness you can only get from the grill. Freeze the bones until you’re ready to use them.
  8. Make your own BBQ sauce. You just spent 6-9 hours cooking the most amazing meat, and you’re going to put nasty, sugar-filled, store-bought sauce on it? Please. Do not do this.

Happy grilling!

Bourbon-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Last weekend, we celebrated our lovely friend Claire’s birthday by camping out all day on her gorgeous terrace in El Gòtic and slow-cooking a ridiculous amount of pork to perfection (more about that in another post).

Power nap.
Power nap.

It was a tough day.

Brian worked his magic on the grill, and I made a simple coleslaw and this bourbon-chipotle BBQ sauce, which I have to say, turned out mighty fine. I love BBQ sauce, but I find a lot of the bottled stuff too sweet and lacking in real flavor (also, it’s strangely not a thing here in Spain).

I like a BBQ sauce with a little kick to it, and my old friends bourbon and chipotle give this recipe a moderate level of spice with a hint of smoky sweetness.

tomatoes for BBQ sauce
End-of-the-season tomatoes

I’ve made a variation of this recipe before with canned tomatoes, and it turned out well – but go for the fresh version if you’ve got ’em. It takes additional time to cook them down, but it’s not a lot more hands-on work, and I think it’s worth it.

Pulled pork with BBQ sauce
Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and bourbon-chipotle BBQ sauce. Yes.

Bourbon-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Yield: 2 squeeze bottles

Bourbon-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs. fresh tomatoes, cores and seeds removed and roughly chopped (or about 70 oz. canned whole peeled tomatoes)
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup + 1 T. dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 2 T. molasses
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, deseeded and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 T. cocoa powder
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  1. First, make the ketchup-like base. Heat a little olive oil in a large pot, and add tomatoes, celery, onion, garlic, chipotle, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, vinegar, Worcestershire and brown sugar. Cook uncovered for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours until the tomatoes have reduced and become thick and saucy. (Use fresh tomatoes if available; if you use canned tomatoes, you can reduce the cook time to about 30-45 minutes.)
  2. Purée with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Push the mixture through a strainer once or twice, and discard solids.
  3. Add bourbon, molasses and cocoa powder to the tomato mixture and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed.
http://www.travelingtotaste.com/2014/10/26/bourbon-chipotle-bbq-sauce/

Garbanzo, Bulgar & Veggie Fritters With Mint Tzatziki

Garbanzo, Bulgar & Veggie Fritters With Mint Tzatziki

I have a tendency to cook as though I am feeding the entire Duggar family instead of two normal-ish adults. As a result, we often have leftover grains and beans to get creative with.

This week, we had a ton of extra bulgar and a bag of dried garbanzo beans begging to be used, so I cooked up some tasty (and shockingly vegan, minus the tzatziki sauce, which I do think is a necessity) fritters.

The great thing about this kind of fritter is that you can adapt it to fit whatever you have on hand. We’ve been eating a lot of bulgar lately (quick cooking instructions: 2:1 ratio of broth or water to bulgar; boil liquid, add to bulgar, cover and let sit for 30 minutes), but you could easily substitute couscous or rice. We also happened to have chard and peppers, but you could use zucchini, carrots, spinach, whatever your little heart desires.

Of course I made twice the amount in the recipe below, so I did not actually cut down on the leftover count. You get a fritter! And you get a fritter! Fritters for everyone! I think tomorrow I’m going to add poached eggs to them and call that brunch…

mint-tzatziki-sauce
Easy mint tzatziki sauce
swiss-chard-peppers
Sautéed chard and peppers
chickpea-veggie-mix
Garbanzo and veggie mixture
chickpea-chard-fritter-in-pan
Delicious fried goodness

 

Garbanzo, Bulgar & Veggie Fritters With Mint Tzatziki

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Serving Size: 4

Garbanzo, Bulgar & Veggie Fritters With Mint Tzatziki

Ingredients

  • Fritters:
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (about 1 can)
  • 1 small bunch Swiss chard, tough parts discarded and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked bulgar (or couscous, brown rice, etc.)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • Spices and herbs to taste (salt, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes, mint, cayenne, etc.)

  • Mint Tzatziki Sauce:
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. vinegar
  • Small handful of fresh mint, finely chopped (or a few T. of dried mint)
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. Make the tzatziki by mixing all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate while you make the fritters.
  2. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan. Sauté onion, pepper and Swiss chard until onions are soft and chard is wilted. Drain excess liquid using a strainer, and set aside.
  3. Add garbanzo beans, lemon juice and garlic to a food processor and combine until it forms a rough paste. Add chard mix and spices and blend until mostly smooth.
  4. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and add bulgar, adjusting spices if necessary.
  5. Heat a thin layer of olive oil to medium-high heat in a frying pan. Form small patties from the mixture, and coat in flour.
  6. Fry patties in oil until crispy and brown on each side, a few minutes per side. Serve with tzatziki sauce, salad and bread.
http://www.travelingtotaste.com/2014/10/24/garbanzo-bulgar-veggie-fritters-with-mint-tzatziki/

Slow-Cooker Pork Tacos With Chipotle & Cilantro

Our building has some sort of gas leak, so maintenance turned off the gas for all the apartments until they fix the problem. I should probably be more alarmed at the safety or health implications of this, but I’m mostly just annoyed that I haven’t been able to use the stovetop in five days.

Thank goodness we have an electric oven and a slow cooker, or they’d be getting an earful of my strongly worded but grammatically incorrect Spanish complaints.

I went a little crazy at the market yesterday and came home with 2 kilos (4.4 lbs.) of pork to make tacos… and enchiladas and about five more meals I have yet to dream up.

pork-shoulder
Hello, beautiful.

I spent a little more time making the marinade than I normally do, and it was totally worth the extra few minutes. The meat had a nice subtle spiciness – nothing too crazy – so you can adjust the chipotle and jalapeño measurements to your own taste.

slow-cooker-pork
If it falls apart when you try to turn it, you’re doing it right.

I recommend serving the tacos with extra sour cream, avocado, cilantro and Tapatío. This is actually just a good life rule.

Slow-Cooker Pork Tacos

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 6 hours

Total Time: 6 hours, 20 minutes

Serving Size: 10-12

Slow-Cooker Pork Tacos

Ingredients

  • Taco Meat:
  • 4-5 lb. pork shoulder (or other cut with some nice marbling)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 jalapeño or other medium-spicy pepper, chopped
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 1 T. chili powder
  • 7 fresh tomatoes (or tomato purée), chopped
  • 1 lime
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

  • Taco Fixins:
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Avocado
  • Sour cream
  • Cheese
  • Hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Salt the pork generously and let sit in the slow cooker while you do the rest of the prep.
  2. Combine onion, garlic, chipotle, jalapeño, cumin, chili powder and a little olive oil and microwave or sauté for about 5 minutes, until onions are softened. Transfer to food processor.
  3. Add fresh tomatoes, most of the cilantro (saving some for garnish) and the juice of 1 lime. Blend until smooth.
  4. Pour mixture over the pork, turning it over a few times to coat (the meat won't be completely submerged).
  5. Cook on high for 6 to 8 hours or low for 9 to 11 hours, turning the meat once or twice if possible. When it's done, the meat should fall apart when you touch it.
  6. Serve on warm tortillas with your favorite fixins. Save the leftover cooking liquid to cook black or pinto beans.
http://www.travelingtotaste.com/2014/10/16/slow-cooker-pork-tacos-with-chipotle-cilantro/

Las Empas and the making of the Porterhouse Blue

Dag Flachet is a good friend of ours, and along with some partners, he runs an empanada joint called Las Empas, here in Gràcia, Barcelona.

Mind you, this is not your standard restaurant; these empanadas are made by the customers. I don’t mean you show up and make your own bespoke empanada, I mean customers compete using a Facebook application to design and promote an empanada of their own creation. The one with the most votes gets the opportunity to make a test batch, and if all goes well, get an empanada on the menu.

“What’s the incentive?” you may ask. Once your creation is on the menu, for every 20 that are sold, you get a free empanada when you go by the restaurant. It’s a clever business model that links social media with food in an engaging (and competitive) way, and rewards creativity with deliciousness.

Needless to say, it was enough to motivate me, so I’ll walk you through how the process went.

A couple of years ago, Gillian and I had an amazing meal at some restaurant in Hawaii that used a red-wine reduction sauce. We thought, “Why are there no beer reduction sauces?” and set to work making one. What we ended up with was a seared beef tenderloin with blue cheese and porter beer reduction, which turned out surprisingly well (consequently, it was later featured on craftbeer.com). I thought this might make a good empanada, so I gave it a shot.

Using the Las Empas Empanada Creator on Facebook is super easy and intuitive. Pick the type of dough (out of five options), pick the filling (too many to count), add the spices (also too many to count). Simple. If something essential is missing (for instance, porter beer reduction sauce), let them know, and they’ll add it to the application.

Select filling and specify amounts.
Select filling and specify amounts.

 

Once you’ve created and named (a good name is essential) your empanada, it’s time for shameless self-promotion. Share it on Facebook and encourage your friends to vote for your empanada. Likes on Facebook contribute to your overall score, and votes are tallied so you can see your progress on the leaderboard.

leaderboard-screen-shot
Leaderboard shows total votes and time remaining in the competition.

 

After a month of, as mentioned before, shameless self-promotion to friends and family who may never get to try my empanada based on geographic distance, I ended up at the top! Seriously, thank you all of you who voted.

I'm not just making this up, here's the screen shot!
I’m not just making this up, here’s the screen shot!

 

The next step was to met with Dag in the test kitchen and do a test run. This day started by writing all the ingredients of the empanada on his giant chalkboard wall. Being a designer who loves typography, I maybe went a little overboard.

Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova.
Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova.
Probably spent too long on this.
Me + Food + Typography = Way too much time making this.

 

I’ve never made empanadas before, but the prep of the filling was similar to what I’d done when making the original recipe. Dag had handy little patties of empanada dough and we made about 15-20, using a fork to close them up.

Putting the pieces together (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova)
Putting the pieces together (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova)
Ingredients and pre-oven empanada.
Ingredients and pre-oven empanada.

 

A few minutes in the oven and the empanadas were ready for a formal presentation in front of the Las Empas sign. You should note that Dag is seated and is still taller than I am when standing.

I present you Empa Porterhouse Blue.
I present you Empa Porterhouse Blue (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova).

 

The empanadas came out with gooey, cheesy, beer reductiony steak filling and were really good. With zero prior knowledge and this being my first attempt at empanadas ever, I’m extremely pleased with the results. Of course, now I see there are a few things I would optimize the next time around. Mainly, cooking the meat less time before it goes into the dough (it gets cooked again in the oven) a using LOT more beer sauce. Obviously.

These things are to be expected, and overall I had a ton of fun making empanadas and drinking beer all afternoon (we had to make sure we had the right beer for the sauce, of course). Many thanks to Dag and the rest of the Las Empas team for humoring me, as well as Blaga Popova for documenting the event. Looking forward to the next round of testing and seeing Empa Porterhouse Blue on the menu soon!

The Empa Porterhouse Blue
The Empa Porterhouse Blue

Cavatast 2014: A Weekend in Penedès Wine Country

The capital of the cava region, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, is just a stone’s throw away from Barcelona, a fact that makes me very, very happy.

You can hop on the regional train – Rodalies R4 line – at Plaça de Catalunya and be there in about 45 minutes. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the massive Freixenet cavaplex right next to the Sant Sadurní d’Anoia train station.

We have made it out to visit different wineries several times with friends, and for about the last eight months, we’ve been looking forward to Cavatast, the town’s annual cava festival held at the end of harvest season, this year from October 3 to 5:

Cavatast is a space for pairing the best cavas with the best food trends of the season. The exhibitors offer visitors an extraordinary range of products for tasting, savouring, enjoying and taking home.

That sounds good. I’ll have that.

IMG_3026

Our awesome friends Kyle and Arianna were visiting from California, so it was only fitting that we head to the cava fest to take the place by storm. Kyle and I should have started some sort of Sonoma County cheer to represent for our own wine country (next time).

We got to Cavatast in the early afternoon on Saturday, walking the 10 minutes from the train station up to the street hosting the festival, and I was surprised by how uncrowded and laidback it was. A few weeks ago, Brian and I went with friends to a wine and cava festival in Barcelona during La Mercè (the festivities for the patron saint of the city), and it was a lot of fun but packed with people. The scene in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia was much more serene during the day, with no lines and plenty of standing table space, though it did get more crowded as the night went on. Yes, we were there all day.

The prices were super reasonable, and this is what we bought for each person:

Cava and glass (4 tickets + 1 glass) 6.50 €
Additional cava (4 tickets) 5.00 €
Food (4 tickets) 6.00 €
Total: 17.50 €

IMG_3023

Each of the 30-some wineries with a stand at Cavatast offered several different types of cava, for a price of one to four tickets. We stuck within the one to two-ticket range and got to try a great selection of cavas. Two of the favorites were the brut nature from Mont Marçal and Fonpinet (we bought three bottles of each at the end of the night) – subtly dry and flavorful. We also sampled some excellent food from Restaurant Cal Blay – bacallà (cod), fideuà (noodle dish similar to paella), cannelloni with mushroom bechamel sauce and a stew with botifarra negra (Catalan sausage).

cavatast

cavatast

cavatast

It was a long and trying day, making so many difficult decisions about what type of cava to try next. We took a late train back to Vilafranca del Penedès, 10 minutes away, where we stayed the night and regained our strength.

On Sunday, we took the train to Lavern-Subirats – next to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia – to have lunch with friends at the spectacular Cal Pere del Maset, which is a quick cab ride from the station in the town of Sant Pau d’Ordal. Our friend Joan’s family owns the restaurant, and the food is nothing short of amazing. Course after course of seasonal, perfectly prepared dishes.

A few favorites that I now dream about: crepes filled with chicken and covered in foie gras sauce and mushrooms, hake cooked to perfection served with romesco sauce, perfectly rare solomillo (best steak ever) with foie gras and truffle sauce, chocolette croquetas with bitter orange sauce. It was gourmet gastronomic experience with an insane wine selection (seriously, the wine list is bigger than dictionaries I’ve owned), fantastic service and a beautiful setting for very reasonable prices for the quality you receive. A meal like this in California would have cost far more, and Cal Pere del Maset is well worth the day trip from Barcelona. We will find an excuse to go back very soon.

cal pere del maset

All in all, Cavatast 2014 was a great experience, and heading to the festival is going to be an annual tradition. Who’s in for Cavatast 2015?

Potato-Leek Soup with Crispy Pancetta

It’s the time of year where I’m simultaneously mourning the last days of summer and antsy to move on to the crisp fall weather. Barcelona has been skipping back and forth between seasons – sunny and balmy one day, cool and stormy the next.

During one of the fierce thunderstorms this week, I put the potatoes in our CSA basket to good use and made a simple, creamy potato-leek soup that hit the spot. Cozy up with a bowl – you won’t regret it.

Potato-Leek Soup

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Serving Size: 4

Potato-Leek Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 leeks (white and light green parts only), roughly chopped
  • 5 small potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream or half and half
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, dried thyme and other spices
  • Handful of cubed pancetta (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 baguette, cut into medium chunks

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add leeks and potatoes and cook for about 10 minutes, until softened slightly.
  2. Add broth and simmer for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are very tender. Add cream and heat through.
  3. At the same time, cook pancetta in a small pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and bread crumbs until crispy, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Use an immersion blender (or work in batches in a regular blender) to puree until it is still lightly chunky, not totally smooth.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, thyme and any other spices you like.
  6. Serve topped with pancetta-crouton mix, with extra sliced bread on the side.
http://www.travelingtotaste.com/2014/10/02/potato-leek-soup-with-crispy-pancetta/