24 September 2018

Porc effiloché et petits pains à la patate douce

A couple of days ago, I mentioned a batch of "pulled pork" that I had made in the slow cooker. "Barbecue" is what we call this specialty in North Carolina, where it's pork barbecued and smoked over oak or hickory embers. It resembles Mexican carnitas, but it's spiced differently. It's normally made with pork, and I use mostly pork shoulder ("Boston butt") to make barbecue here in France, but it's just as good made with turkey legs and thighs. You can't really tell the difference.

What you do to make it in the slow cooker is put two or three pounds of pork shoulder or turkey legs and thighs in the pot. Season the meat with about half a cup of vinegar (cider is good), plenty of black pepper, some hot red pepper like powdered cayenne or hot sauce like Tabasco or Texas Pete (a North Carolina product), a few pinches of dried thyme, a splash of Worcester sauce, and, really, whatever spices you like (cumin and smoked paprika come to mind). As for the seasoning, don't worry, because you can always add more seasonings after the meat is cooked and "pulled." (I always add some liquid smoke, which I bring back from North Carolina.) Here's a French recipe for pulled pork using a sauce made with sweet-hot barbecue sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, honey, and orange juice!

So pulled pork is a cooking method rather than a recipe. If you want to make it in a slow cooker (a crock pot), put pork or turkey in the pot and cook it at low temperature for about eight hours, or on high for five or six hours. When the meat is completely cooked — if it's turkey, it should be falling off the bone, and it's easy to remove and discard the skin and bones, etc. — take it out of the pot, let it cool down, and then, using a couple of forks or your fingers (impeccably clean, as Julia Child always used to say), pull the meat into shreds. If it's turkey or very lean pork, you might want to add a drizzle of vegetable oil. If the strands of meat are too long, don't be afraid to cut them into shorter pieces using a knife or kitchen scissors. Voilà : c'est du porc effiloché — shredded pork.

One way pulled pork is served is as a sandwich on a hamburger bun. We like to brown the pulled pork slightly in a frying pan before putting on buns. You can buy buns (whether in France or the U.S.) in the supermarket — I always liked American "kaiser rolls" — or you can make your own. There are many recipes for buns on the internet in English, and also in French. The recipe we used this time to make buns for our barbecue sandwiches called for a dough with a good amount of cooked and mashed or pureed sweet potato (the orange-fleshed ones) or pumpkin flesh incorporated. When I say pumpkin, I include winter squashes like butternut or French potimarron. Here's the recipe:

Hamburger Buns
made with pureed sweet potato or pumpkin

First make "sponge" by combining in a large bowl:
2½ tsp. dry active yeast (10 g)
½ cup warm water (120 ml)
½ cup flour (65 g)

Let the sponge develop for 20 minutes. When it's foamy and bubbly, add to it:
1 cup mashed sweet potato or pumpkin flesh (240 ml)
2 tsp. honey
1¼ tsp. fine salt
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. melted butter or vegetable oil
½ to 4 cups flour (450 to 500 g) as needed to form a nice ball of dough

Mix all the ingredients together, but don't add all the flour at once. Whether you are kneading the dough by hand or using a stand mixer, add a good amount of flour to start and then gradually add the rest, as much as it takes, to make a ball of dough that is soft but not too sticky. Let the dough rise, covered, in an oiled bowl place in a warm place until it doubles in volume. It might take as much as two hours.

Then "deflate" the risen dough by kneading it again and cut it into eight (or six, or twelve) equal pieces (depending on how big you want the buns to be) and shape each piece into a ball. Place the balls of dough on a baking sheet and flatten them slightly. Let them rise again in a warm place so that they more or less double in size (another hour or so). They'll rise more when you put them to cook in a hot oven.

Bake the buns at 400ºF (200ºC) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned. Make them ahead of time and store the ones you have left over in a plastic bag in the freezer for later.

In North Carolina, we usually put some mustardy coleslaw (cabbage salad) on the barbecue sandwiches with the meat, and we add some sauce. These buns are especially appropriate with pulled pork or turkey barbecue, because N.C. is a major producer and consumer of sweet potatoes as well as of hogs and turkeys.


  1. As you said once, pulled pork is somewhat akin to the French rillettes, another specialty of Le Mans.

    1. Since we came to live here, I've found out that rillettes really are a specialty of Touraine. Here's what the French wikipedia article about rillettes says:

      Popularisées par la ville du Mans, à partir du début du XXe siècle, les rillettes au porc ont en fait pour origine, et ce dès le XVe siècle, la Touraine, seule région à bénéficier d'une indication géographique protégée pour ce mets, à savoir les rillettes de Tours.

      The article spells out the history of rillettes, including descriptions given by Rabelais, Balzac, and Proust. It's worth reading. The meat in rillettes de Tours is less mashed and ground than in the Le Mans version, which is industrial rather than home-cooked. In the Tours recipe, the meat is left as strands and shreds rather than puree.

    2. So rillettes du Mans is just another commercial gimmick?

    3. I guess. Here's a passage in Balzac's Le Lys dans la vallée where he writes about his (or somebody's) childhood and going to school.

      ...chétif et malingre, à cinq ans je fus envoyé
      comme externe dans une pension de la ville,
      conduit le matin et ramené le soir par le valet de
      chambre de mon père. Je partais en emportant un
      panier peu fourni, tandis que mes camarades
      apportaient d’abondantes provisions. Ce contraste
      entre mon dénuement et leur richesse engendra
      mille souffrances. Les célèbres rillettes et rillons
      de Tours formaient l’élément principal du repas
      que nous faisions au milieu de la journée, entre le
      déjeuner du matin et le dîner de la maison dont
      l’heure coïncidait avec notre rentrée. Cette
      préparation, si prisée par quelques gourmands,
      paraît rarement à Tours sur les tables
      aristocratiques ; si j’en entendis parler avant
      d’être mis en pension, je n’avais jamais eu le
      bonheur de voir étendre pour moi cette brune
      confiture sur une tartine de pain ; mais elle
      n’aurait pas été de mode à la pension, mon envie
      n’en eût pas été moins vive, car elle était devenue
      comme une idée fixe, semblable au désir
      qu’inspiraient à l’une des plus élégantes
      duchesses de Paris les ragoûts cuisinés par les
      portières, et qu’en sa qualité de femme, elle
      satisfit. Les enfants devinent la convoitise dans
      les regards aussi bien que vous y lisez l’amour :
      je devins alors un excellent sujet de moquerie.
      Mes camarades, qui presque tous appartenaient à
      la petite bourgeoisie, venaient me présenter leurs
      excellentes rillettes en me demandant si je savais
      comment elles se faisaient, où elles se vendaient,
      pourquoi je n’en avais pas. Ils se pourléchaient en
      vantant les rillons, ces résidus de porc sautés dans
      sa graisse et qui ressemblent à des truffes cuites ;
      ils douanaient mon panier, n’y trouvaient que des
      fromages d’Olivet, ou des fruits secs, et
      m’assassinaient d’un : – Tu n’as donc pas de
      quoi ?

    4. It's always a pleasure to read Balzac.

  2. Ah, it's the middle of the night here in Ohio and I couldn't get back to sleep and was already a bit hungry when I read this post....Now I'm starving. This all sounds so good!

    1. Well, it all really was good. If you've never made pulled pork, you should try it. You can flavor and season it the way you want, of course. Olive oil. Herbs. Onion. Garlic. Spices. And it freezes perfectly so you can make a large amount of it and enjoy it over a period of weeks or months.

  3. Ken, what capacity is your slow cooker?

    1. It's five or six liters, I think.

    2. Judy, it's 6 liters: this one. I really like it because the liner is light-weight (aluminum and not fragile) and the interior has a non-stock coating. If I want to, I can use the liner on a gas or electric burner, for example, to brown something before slow-cooking it.

  4. I bet those buns were yummy!

    1. Really good. We made them with winter squash; next time we'll make them with sweet potato — a few days ago, I bought two sweet potatoes imported from the USA, maybe NC.

  5. I like the hint of orange juice you've added. Nice.
    Saw a news bit the other day about how many thousands of factory farmed hogs were killed in the hurricane; the writer suggested people might want to be careful where they bought their port for a time, as apparently disposal isn't all that it might be.

  6. And now I am hungry for some pulled pork!


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