If the past several years of the pontifications of many food writers are to be believed, the best foods are also the leanest. And if you can’t get beautiful, uniform, pristine, fatless pork, you are in some way unworthy of being considered a real cook. But fat is flavor, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Oh, there are techniques to extract amazingly concentrated flavors from lean meats and vegetables — just take a look at some of the French “cuisine minceur” cookbooks. The food is great! But it is a huge amount of work, inaccessible to most people. Can some foods taste great without fat? Of course. But some foods are simply better with fat, and pork may be at the top of that list. There has been pushback from some of the more interesting chefs, led, it seems, by David Chang, of Momofuku fame. Eat at one of his restaurants (if you can get in), and you will discover a man who revels in pork fat. His new restaurant, Ko, opens its reservations website at 10:00am and it’s full by 10:01am. I wouldn’t be surprised if his next venture is a spa in which the patrons are immersed in warm pork fat before being massaged by Rubenesque masseuses.
Why the fat rant? Well, I was poking around my local supermarket and saw a nice fat pork butt on sale. It was liberally coated with thick, beautiful porcine adipose. And upon closer inspection, I discovered a few silky rivers of fat coursing through the whole chunk of meat. Perfect! It wasn’t from a fancy heirloom pig; it was probably from some monstrous hog butcher in Iowa that each year cranks millions of pigs through its slaughterhouse. But it was nice and fatty, just perfect for a slow-cooked pulled-pork. And that’s exactly what I did, with a simple dry rub; nothing more than paprika, garlic powder, salt, dry mustard, and some brown sugar. I let it sit overnight and then roasted it at 275°F until it reached 170°F internal temperature. I used an electronic probe connected to an alarm, so I didn’t even have to worry about timing it. I pulled it out of the oven, covered it with aluminum foil, and let it rest until it cooled off enough for me to pull it by hand. I was left with about 4 pounds of wonderful, spicy, rich pork that is perfect for just about anything. I have a mustard-based barbecue sauce on the side, but the meat is so good that I am thinking about eating it without the sauce.
All of that evil, unhealthy disgusting fat spent several hours in the oven, melting away and bathing the meat in richness. And some of that gristle and connective tissue that is eschewed by slim-hipped hipsters also melted away into the meat. I was left with some great stuff. Not necessarily the healthiest food on the planet, but damned good. I figure I’ll stop making this kind of food when I can’t fit through the door.