When asked where I went to college, I usually answer by just saying “Carolina.” I’m often met with a blank stare. Then comes the insulting question, “Is that North or South Carolina?” I’m always shocked and will often say, “You know, the UNC Tarheels, does Michael Jordan ring a bell? Every March, much to Charlie’s delight, I become an avid Carolina basketball fan. Don’t ask me about sports at any other time of the year — I know nothing. But during this one magical month, ask me about the ACC, NCAA, sweet sixteen, #1 seed, Roy Williams, Tyler Hansbrough or even zone defense and I can give you a fairly informed and enthusiastic answer. I’ll even turn on the TV, pour a beer (granted it is a Black Butte Porter instead of a Bud) fix a barbecue sandwich, sit on the edge of the couch yelling and calling the players by name.
Not to get all misty-eyed on you or anything but there’s really nothing like a good Tarheel basketball game to give me a craving for barbecue. Not the meat with gloppy red sauce they call barbecue out here but the pork that’s cooked slow and low with a vinegar and red pepper sauce. It’s been years since I went to Allen & Sons and devoured a plate of this tender spicy pork with a side of slaw and half a dozen hush puppies, but I can still taste it in my mind and did my best to recreate a REAL barbecue sandwich, with a Northwest twist or two. North Carolina barbecue must be accompanied by slaw so I picked up a couple heads of cabbage at the farmers market — green (traditional) and purple (not so much).
While my slaw wouldn’t pass the authentic NC test, it is delicious and can pass for a local dish in the Northwest. Just shred your cabbage (carrots are also a nice addition) and dress with white wine vinegar, olive oil and a tablespoon or two of mayo. Salt & pepper to taste.
Barbecued pork takes a little time but you can marinate it and then braise it in the oven. You miss out on the smoky flavor that comes with cooking it over coals, but what’s a Southern girl to do in March in the Northwest? Our weather is definitely not conducive to a real old-fashioned pig pickin’ this time of year. I consulted Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking, knowing that I’d find the sauce that matched the one in my memory.
North Carolina Barbecue Sauce
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup minced onion
1/2 cup ketchup
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 t red pepper flakes
1 t sugar
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs of thyme
1/8 t cayenne
3 t dry mustard
6 t cold water
Combine all the ingredients except the last 2 in a small saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil, then simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Dissolve the mustard in cold water, then add a little of the hot vinegar sauce. Stir the mustard into the sauce. Let cool then set a 3-4 lb. pork shoulder roast in a deep bowl with the sauce. Refrigerate and let it marinate for 12-24 hours, turning the meat over once or twice during that time.
To braise the meat, I looked at All About Braising, the Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens. It seems like every food magazine has had an article about braising recently. This book is a great resource. I learned all sorts of tips like using a piece of parchment paper to reinforce the seal of the lid, trap the moisture and baste the food more efficiently. I adapted her recipe for Caribbean Pork Shoulder for my North Carolina Barbecue.
Place a 3-4 lb. pork shoulder, fat side up, in a dutch oven just large enough to hold the meat and the marinade. Pour vinegar marinade over the meat. Place in the lower third of a preheated 300 degree oven. Let it cook for 3 1/2 hours, turning the meat over once or twice during that time.
When it is very tender, carefully move the pork to a cutting board. Remove the fat and shred the remaining pork. Skim fat off the surface of the sauce with a spoon (there will be about 1/2 cup). If you want to reduce the sauce after degreasing, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Return the shredded meat to the sauce. Taste for additional seasoning.
Cut open a hamburger bun. The best I’ve found are the Brioche Burger Buns from Macrina Bakery. On the bottom half of the bun, pile on the shredded pork, top generously with slaw and then the top of the bun. The barbecue sauce soaks into the bread so a sturdy roll works best.
Now kick back and watch the game. Go Tarheels!
(If you just can’t relate to the UNC Tarheels, UW’s Huskies are also playing well this season and will be in the NCAA tournament starting tomorrow.