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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pernod Pulled Pork Tenderloin

Two things right off the bat about the title of this post:  

Firstly, Pernod is yucky.  It is not a great-tasting alcohol on its own.  Do not even try to make drinks with it... you can add a myriad of sweet mixes and cover-ups, but you'll always get that licorice flavour giving your taste-buds a judicious beat-down.  However... in moderate quantities, Pernod is quite good for cooking.  Particularly for cream sauces, or meat dishes.

Secondly, Pork Tenderloin should really be saved for more illustrious ends than 'pulled pork'.  Typically, you'd want to use a poorer (and fattier) cut of meat like shoulder or butt for pulled pork.  Not just for monetary reasons, either - these cuts have significantly more fat and collagen which break down over a slow cook and render the meat more tender and easy to pull apart.

Now that that's been said... I made a pot of slow-cooked pork tenderloins with a heavy dash of Pernod.



I dunno.

The simplest answer is 'because I wanted to.'

The lengthy response involves my justifying the use of tenderloin by its sale price of less than $5 for two of them, a complex explanation of intertwining mustard seed with Pernod, along with a healthy dose of admitted curiosity at seeing how it would turn out.

I don't know why this happens to work out, but it seems that we often find pork tenderloins grouped together (in packages of two or more) and invariably on sale as well.  I'm not sure if that's just our grocer, or what... but there it is.

Now, what I should have done, was rip this open and then individually freezer-wrap each tenderloin before freezing them.  But did I do that?  No... I just threw the whole thing in the freezer.

So... I decided it would be best if I cooked them both at the same time.  Initially (and for most of the day that they were defrosting) I had just planned to roast them.  Maybe a little differently just for diversity... One sweet the other savoury...  However, I changed my mind a little after midday, and opted for something slow-cooked.  It could have something to do with the fact that it was about 35 degrees in the apartment and I was loathe to start the oven, but it also seemed a good way to use up both tenderloins at once, and just have copious left-overs.

Anyway, they had been marinating for about 12 hours in a mix which was predominantly water, Pernod, mustard seed, and bay leaves.

Covered, and refrigerated, this was enough to completely thaw them, and pre-tenderize them nicely.

They were going to be 'slow-cooked' for most of the day however, so I wasn't too worried.  And this was one of the rare times I would actually use some of this marinade in the cooking as well.  Which is generally not a good idea... but can sometimes be a boon.

So, with pulled-pork, the liquid you cook it in literally becomes the sauce, and much of it is actually incorporated into the meat.  So (I think) it is important to make the base only things which you'd actually want mixed in at the time of eating.  For that reason, my 'base' is going to be nicely pureed and have a wonderful balance of flavours, all conducive to great release of flavours over the long cook time.  It is almost all onion though.  Yup.  Onion.

In addition to a ton of onion, pulled pork should have something sweet and tangy, and maybe just a little bit of heat.  BBQ sauce is very common, even among respected chef's recipes.  It is (usually) a great mix of all sweet, tangy, and hot.  So we'll be adding a fair bit of that later.

For now - we're going to make the pureed base:

Almost an entire white onion, chopped, a couple of shallots, and about 5 cloves of garlic.

I poured a small amount of my marinade in here just for lubrication, and then mulched it!

Next, (this is just for my tastes, and not necessary unless you like a tangy tomato presence) I did the same for about 3 roma tomatoes.

You can see why romas are the saucier's choice in tomatoes.  They pulp up very meatily and without a lot of superfluous liquid and not a whole lot of seeds.

Anyway, all this just gets dumped into my slow-cooker pot.

And we're on to searing the pork.

My tenderloins were too large to brown whole, and I had the added concern of them being possibly too lean to fall-apart readily, so I decided to give it an advantage and slice them into eighths.  

So I had 16 strips of tenderloin, which (you can see) were indeed very lean.  I admit I was a little worried at this point that they'd be too lean.  I thought I might just end up with stewed or braised pork strips.  I determined, however, that this wouldn't be the end of the world after all, and just forged ahead.

If you're using a big chunk of shoulder or butt (like you're supposed to), you can sear this in the oven on very high heat for about 10 minutes, before putting in a dutch oven or sealed roaster or what-have-you.  Maybe your slow-cooker is even large enough to house the entire cut?  Good for you then... mine is quite small.

So, I browned these 16 strips in batches, and then put them in the slow cooker pot.

I couldn't in good conscience leave the pork gribblies (even though they were few - see above lean meat) in the pan, so I deglazed it a little bit with more of the marinade I had saved.

Then it all gets dumped in, and I poured in the remainder of the marinade mixture (including the bay leaves) enough to completely cover the pork.  I then added a pinch of salt, some fresh dry oregano, and a large amount of barbecue sauce.  Because this already had a mustard-y penchant (see above mustard-seed and Pernod marinade) I chose to go with a mustard-based BBQ sauce.  This PC Carolina-Style Mustard BBQ sauce is quite delicious, and worked perfectly for this.

Anyway, stir it around a bit, and then pop it in the slow-cooker for at least 3 hours.

About an hour or two before eating - so for me it was around the 3 hour mark - I like to 'thicken' it by adding a couple tablespoons of corn starch (pre-mixed as always).

So, in a small mixing bowl I added a small amount of skim milk to a couple spoonfuls of corn starch and whisked it thoroughly.  I don't know why, but skim milk is my preferred solvent of choice for dissolving corn starch.  It just seems to work really well.  You can, of course, use almost anything else instead, if you prefer.

At 3 hours, this is what it looked like:

Very gorgeous, but the pork was still more or less intact.  I thought to myself at this point: "Oh, well stupid, that's what you get for trying to use a tenderloin for pulled pork - guess you're having stewed pork strips".

But... then I just tried to pull it apart with two forks.  And it worked beautifully.  I pulled the pork for a little bit longer, but then decided that I should actually just let it finish cooking first.

So on went the lid and the pork cooked for another hour or so.

It was then that I went to town on the pork.  It was fun.  And very easy.  The sauce had thickened beautifully, and the pork was very pulled.  :)

OH man oh man oh man.

This was so freaking good.

I know I sometimes come across as being pretentious, but for the most part I firmly believe that most restaurants and professional chefs can do everything I do much better than I can.

I did not feel this way about this pulled pork; it was literally the best pulled pork I'd ever had.  Ever.

I made my wife bring home some hamburger buns - normally we get 'healthy' multigrain burger thins - but today I insisted they be thick and mushy and white - I was hoping for some sort of 'sloppy-joe' kind of bun.  She brought home ciabatta buns of which I was a little skeptical at first, but quickly changed my mind.

They were so damn good.

You don't even need to put anything on the buns.  We just toasted them slightly on the inside, and then let the sauce do the rest.  So amazingly delicious.  The buns were porous enough to let the sauce seep into the whole thing, and yet crisp enough that they did not turn the whole thing soggy.  I'd definitely recommend ciabatta for this sort of thing in the future.  Good call, wife!

And the verdict on the use of tenderloin?  To those skeptics out there, yes, in fact it can be done.  I believe that if you cook something slowly and long enough (and adequately immersed in liquid) you could make pretty much anything fall apart.  So while I was worried that the tenderloins might be too lean to fall apart easily, not only did they, but that same leanness ended up making this dish superbly uniform in consistency.  

This was ALL meat, unlike most pulled-pork (made with poorer, fattier, cuts) where every third bite is gristle or stringy fat that gets caught up in your teeth.  

This was definitely worth it, and was without a doubt one of the most complex and flavourful meals I've made this year.  The onion was there in full force as it should be, but the tomato was recognizable and gave a good neutral tang in contrast to the very strong mustard flavour.  The Pernod lent a surprisingly subtle licorice hint that thankfully did not overpower the way it does 'raw'.  I am still a little disbelieving of how tasty this was.  If I were to ever compile a list of favourite recipes, this one would definitely make the cut.

Try it out!