Sunday, February 14, 2010

Piggy Back Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Sharp Cheddar Frico

Happy Valentine's Day! I realize this isn't exactly a date night main entree, but as you can see I'm a week behind in my posting to cooking ratio. No matter - this recipe is my Valentine's present to YOU. Have you ever made pulled pork sandwiches? I hadn't and for the Super Bowl, I searched high and low for the perfect recipe with a particular version in mind I'd had years ago made by a friend in her crock pot. When pushed for what she put in it, she said "a can of Coke and an onion." Hmm...some people sure are protective of their recipes. I didn't doubt that those two things were in there, but she was leaving out the rest of the goods. I filed the idea of pulled pork via crock pot and Coke away until last Sunday when the obsession for the perfect recipe returned in full force.

As usual, I didn't use any recipe I found, but went rogue like a gypsy mixing potions. Lots of recipes call for brown sugar in addition to soda or juice or other sweet liquid but it struck me as a fun challenge to think of other things to contribute sweetness and flavor (I don't get out much.)

One thing came to me right away - pickle relish. My grandmother used it in her tuna fish and I had fond memories of its sweet but sharp bite amongst savory ingredients, so in it went. Even if you're not a fan, I don't think it will put you off as it's not an in your face guest at the party but rather a sit-quietly-in-the-corner-scoping-out-the-ladies type.

The thing to remember about long slow cooking - be it via crock pot or stove top simmering (ragu/short ribs/etc.) is even though it's a wonderful way to slowly develop incredible flavor, you have to remember to give it a good slap in the face after all that relaxing to wake up the flavors. I know this seems counter intuitive but trust me on this one.

This is why I hold off my final arsenal of flavors until the very end. Molasses, tomato paste, and more relish and spices, cracked black pepper being the most important. I mean with all that sweetness going on, someone's got to be the grown up and look responsible. This is also where the pig on pig action comes into play. You know I'm a texture freak, which is why I love putting crisp cooked bacon slices on top of the sandwiches instead of adding snipped bacon in with the tenderloin at the beginning. But if you don't like the idea of bacon on top of pulled pork, you can cut the crisped bacon into 1/2 inch pieces instead, tossing them in with the shredded meat at the last minute before serving if you like. And if you're already breaking the rules, I advise tipping in any bacon grease from the pan and stirring it in. It may sound wrong, but it's so right, like two old friends reuniting after a long time apart.

The cheddar fricos were an unfortunate accidental discovery on my part. I was literally about to scold my husband on his inability to eat anything without cheese on top of it, mid bite of pulled pork sandwich, when I noticed a little slightly burnt spot of cheese on my pan of stuffed jalapenos. You can guess what happened next. And please do - I'm too embarrassed to say it out loud. Anyway, if you want to dive head on into gluttony as I have, make the cheddar fricos to go on top.

PS - we saw Wolfman yesterday. If you haven't seen it yet, don't bother. Just have a martini and put in the Jack Nicholsen/Michelle Pfeiffer movie Wolf from the nineties. It will seem like 'Best Picture' in comparison if not at least entertain you which is more than I can say for the sadly misguided Wolfman:(

Piggy Back Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Sharp Cheddar Frico
* This recipe should make at least 16-18 sandwiches.
* The pulled pork would also be excellent on nachos.
* Cheese Frico is not pictured because it was a last minute discovery.

2 pounds of pork tenderloin (you can just get 2 one pound tenders)
1/2 cup Dr Pepper
2 tablespoons pickle relish
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 heaping tablespoons molasses
2 heaping tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sweet pickled relish

8+ slices bacon, baked in a 350 oven for 15 minutes until crisp (if you're serving the all of the pulled pork, double the bacon called for so that you'll have extra slices for topping just in case. BUT if you're adding the bacon into the pulled pork versus putting it on top, you only need about 5 cooked snipped pieces and their grease. Anymore might dominate the other flavors.)
16-18 Hamburger buns
Cheddar Frico, recipe below

Place the tenderloins in a cold crock pot. Meanwhile, mix up the first set of ingredients - the Dr. Pepper through the teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl. Pour it into the crock pot over the tenderloins, and lift and mix them around to make sure they're all touched by its magic. Put the lid on and put the crock pot on the 'high' setting for 1 hour.

After one hour, lower the crock pot to the 'low' setting and cook for 6 hours, flipping the tenderloins over at some point, preferably midway through. After six hours, use a fork to check and see if the meat shreds easily when scraped with a fork. If it does, turn off the crock pot and let cool for a few minutes, then transfer the meat to a medium lidded pot and shred mercilessly, using two forks. (If it's not shred-able yet, keep cooking another 30 minutes to an hour until it is.)

Once shredded thoroughly, stir in the last set of ingredients - the molasses through the relish, blending well, and put over low heat on the stove. Simmer with the lid on or partially on, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. (During this time you can prepare the bacon and cheese frico to go on top.) Do a final taste for seasonings, adjusting any salt/pepper if necessary to taste.

Serve on the softest buns you can find, preferably those melt in your mouth potato rolls, stirring the meat well beforehand to evenly distribute the juices. Top with crispy bacon then frico, and serve.

Cheddar Fricos
* This isn't so much a recipe as a guide. All frico are is mounds of cheese baked or fried until they form flattened little crisps. I like to bake mine for ease, but it helps to have parchment paper or a silpat to keep them from sticking.
* 3 cups of cheese should yield 12 fricos, but this isn't a science - the size are up to you so you may need to adjust the amount of cheese called for if you're serving it on all the pork sandwiches.

3 cups of shredded sharp cheddar
a silpat or parchment paper
a baking sheet

Preheat oven to 400. Place the shredded cheese in little mounds (anywhere from a heaping tablespoon to whatever you like, just be aware of adjusting cooking time if you make them bigger) on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Make sure you space the little mounds at least an inch apart as they spread out like a cookie when baking.

Bake for 5-7 minutes, just until melted and flattened out and the edges become golden brown. Remove and let cool for 2 minutes before transferring with a spatula to your sandwiches. If you want them even crispier, transfer to a baking rack to cool.

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