Kalua Pig

If you’ve been to Hawaii, perhaps you’ve experienced the paradise of pork known as kalua pig. If you’re from Hawaii, thanks for letting us haoles near this treasure. I had it at Yama’s Fish  Market in Honolulu with poi, as the gods intended, and never forgot it. Imagine pulled pork, but juicier and smokier. Kalua pig is roasted in banana leaves in a buried fire pit, and is velvety tender. It requires no sauce. I took home a frozen container and cried the day I finished it, because I knew I wouldn’t be returning to Hawaii for quite some time. Pork fat can do wonderful things, but when the almost sweet flesh is roasted for a day wrapped in banana leaves, I think that is its greatest accomplishment.

A gift from the Hawaiian gods to humanity.

So, when I saw a kalua pig recipe that used a crock pot instead of requiring a shovel, hot coals and several huge Hawaiian dudes to kill a pig and lug it to your back yard and wrap it in banana leaves, I was intrigued. It seemed too easy- take a pork shoulder and poke it with a knife or carving fork all over, rub it with Hawaiian pink sea salt and Liquid Smoke, and slow cook it for 16 to 20 hours. Sure, that’s a lot of time, but if you set it up at night, you’ll have a delicious surprise waiting for dinner when you get home from work. It’s not the same as having a luau, but your tongue won’t know the difference.

All you’ll need.

I picked up a six pound picnic pork shoulder from King’s market in Verona for $11. The picnic style has the leg joint of the pig’s front trotter attached, and the skin still on, so I spent five minutes skinning it with a sharp kitchen knife that my grandmother used for twenty years. If you’ve never skinned meat, just start at a corner and pull it back, start cutting the layer of fat, and keep pulling and cutting. It’s not unlike removing a sticker from a window, pull at the corners. Try not to cut the meat off, and don’t worry about losing the fat- the porker has plenty of interstitial fat and gelatin to make this melt into a puddle of porky butter. After that, jab it all over with a fork or knife, and rub it with a few tablespoons of sea salt. The recipe calls for Hawaiian sea salt, and it is available from vendors online or at specialty stores. I opted for pink Himalayan sea salt from Trader Joe’s because I had it on hand. Then you need Liquid Smoke to mimic the hot coals and charcoal flavor from being  baked underground. Use a tablespoon or so and rub it down.

Anyone wanna make a football?

The hardest part was fitting a pig’s shoulder joint into the crock pot! For a minute I thought I’d have to debone it, like I had to do to a grass fed chuck roast I slow cooked a while back, but it fit. Put the lid on and set that sucker for 20 hours on low, and forget about it for 8 to 10 hours, when you should flip the meat over. No liquid is required. I was dubious, wanting to add water or cider vinegar, but I obeyed. When I woke up the next morning, the apartment smelled of barbecue. The pork had created plenty of its own juices, and I flipped it with tongs. It was already very tender and beginning to pull apart, but I let it go for the full time. And I was not disappointed.

Now go to sleep and awaken to joy

When I got home from work the pork smell had deepened and mellowed. I opened the slow cooker and was greeted with a steamy blast of fragrance that would make even the most stoic turn into a drooling Homer Simpson. I immediately shredded the pork up with a fork, forgetting to take a photo beforehand, and tasted it. Delicious. It needed more salt and smoke, so I added them and removed the bones with tongs, then let it cook for another 30 minutes on high while I went to pick up Firecracker from the train. This would ideally be served with poi, poke, lomi salmon and haupia- and one day I may just do so. Getting the pig right was the first step; raw tuna, salmon, coconut blancmange and mashing taro root are not quite as challenging, but I have a great idea for a housewarming party next summer. If you comment on this blog post, you might get invited.

You can read all about my adventures in Hawaii here.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

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