I contend that the pig is the unluckiest creature on the planet. Cursed by skin that bursts into crispy deliciousness at the slightest provocation, plagued by a creamy layer of fat, tormented by a sweet and unctuous flesh that can take you on a textural journey from snack-like crispiness to molten liquidity. Serve pork prepared in 5 different ways on the same plate and you would marvel at its diversity. This highly intelligent and charming animal seems to be an evolutionary experiment in deliciousness. More vegetarians (apocryphally) fall off the wagon for bacon than any other product.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I am a heathen unbeliever, pigs would offer the most compelling argument against both Judaism and Islam. In Bali a form of Hinduism is practiced that (mercifully) does not prohibit the killing and eating of animals. When in Bali, look for warung or food stores that promote guling (pig) as this is used to advertise this as a business run by local Balinese people, not by halal Indonesians from Java. It’s a way of saying “buy local”. At Ibu Oka in Ubud you will be driven to present an offering at one of the ubiquitous Balinese shrines in thanks to the Hindu pantheon for allowing these people to eat flesh. Ibu Oka offers two dishes: babi guling and babi guling with rice. It is best to wait until you see the man coming down the street bearing the whole roasted suckling pig on his shoulder.Fresh off the coals, smothered in spices, carved up in front of your eyes and delivered to your table in baskets. You will believe that a better meal is simply not possible. And if you don’t believe me, believe Anothony Bourdain.
I will attempt Babi Guling one day. Even as I write this post my brain is compiling a logistical checklist. But there are many other blissful and achievable things a home cook can do with pork. A simple Chinese style sparerib is always a winner. I like to make mine with the full, thick rasher-style ribs boiled first and then marinated in Hoisin, ginger, sugar and all the usual suspects before throwing them in the oven until dark and sticky. A Chinese style crispy pork is also easily manageable at home and is almost foolproof provided you score and salt the skin well and start the thing off in a blisteringly hot oven to get the skin pumping. And then of course there is porchetta to which thoughts naturally return as the festive season approaches.
Yesterday I tried something new: pulled pork. The pork shoulder was marinated overnight in citrus juice and rind, honey and ground fennel and then placed in a slow cooker for 7 hours. I am not a fan of slow cookers and they way in which they completely fail to caramelise things. I also don’t like the fact that the slow cookers have no intrinsic flavour that they impart to a dish in the way that a well used claypot or casserole does. You can taste the lack of history in slow-cooker food. For the pulled pork, however, the slow cooker seemed right. When I gently prodded the shoulder after a day’s cooking it immediately fell apart and the “pulling” (shredding it with the fork) was more a suggestion than an action. The pork was piled into tortillas with julienned green apple and creme fraiche. Sweet and savoury, soft and sexy, the richness of the pork perfectly offset by the fresh apple, it was pretty much perfect. You could make a huge batch of it for a party and not worry about serving anything else. When I finish this post I will be piling the leftovers on a plate with a poached egg, fresh coriander and a good splash of Tabasco.
- 2 kg pork shoulder, skin removed but fat left on
- 2 tablespoons of honey, warmed until runny
- Juice of two oranges
- Juice of one lemon
- 4 strips orange peel, no pith
- 2 strips lemon peel, no pith
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon of finely ground fennel seeds
- 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
Mix the marinade ingredients together. Line a bowl big enough to hold the shoulder with a plastic freezer bag and place the pork inside. Pour the marinade over and rub in well. Force all the air out of the bag and tie tightly. Leave to sit overnight. The following day, cook in a slow cooker or low oven for several hours until the meat starts to fall apart. Remove to a large bowl, pouring the cooking juices over the meat. When the meat is cool enough to handle, shred it with a fork. You may want to add some salt at this point. There are all sorts of ways you could serve this, I piled it into tortillas with shredded green apple and creme fraiche.