When I was getting ready to make this Asian pulled pork, I knew I wanted to write about it. I didn’t intend to write about it so soon – I knew I had a few posts to be written, the pictures sitting in their appropriate folders on my desktop – but things changed.
As I was putting all of these ingredients together on Monday, the kitchen already started to smell good. The fragrance of the lemongrass and ginger, combined with the rice vinegar and soy sauce, had begun to permeate the kitchen, and when my friend Elsa stopped by while I was making the pickles, she asked, “What smells so good?” as soon as she opened the door. When I left for work a few hours later, the slow cooker was on, the pickles were in the fridge, and mostly I just couldn’t wait to get home and eat the stuff.
After work, I had a message from my mom, asking me to call her. My phone was nearly dead (a morning on the phone with various auto insurance agents will do that to you), so I decided to wait till I could get home and plug my phone in to call. I opened the front door, and I was surrounded by this smell. The Asian flavors swirling around, making my stomach grumble. And then I looked at Jonah, sitting at the kitchen table, and he asked me, “Have you called your mom?” No. “Herby died,” he said.
I immediately called my mom, who was on the other line with my Nana, and said she’d call me back shortly. Herby, or Poppa Herb, is my grandfather. Herby had been sick for a long long time, and I had known for a while that his time was coming to a close. We all knew. And yet, as I said to Jonah moments after he told me, knowing it’s coming doesn’t seem to make it any less sad. Herby suffered for a long time, and so did Nana, really. He was unwell and hard to care for, and he was very ready to go. So after some tears, we couldn’t do much but continue to get dinner ready. The lid came off the slow cooker, and the scrumptious aroma wafted into the air, perfuming our meal. Before we actually sat down to eat, I got to talk to my mom, who let me know that one of the last meals Herb enjoyed was 5 (count them, 5) slices of her french toast. Thank goodness he ate well until the end. And then we ate.
As I started to think about writing this post, I haven’t been able to think about this dish without thinking of Poppa. And while the association could be sad, it really isn’t. It makes me a little more thoughtful, but mostly happy. Happy that I got to have this wonderful extra grandfather, who loved me like I was his own flesh and blood, who believed in me, who used to do little funny dances around the kitchen, who wore all those silly sweatshirts we made for him when we were little, and who made it possible for my family to see each other every year on the Oregon coast. And while I certainly don’t want this recipe to make you sad, I do hope that this post can make you think a little bit more about doing and eating the things we enjoy, and who we enjoy them with.
Note: You’ll see in my pictures that I minced up the lemongrass with the garlic, ginger, and jalapeño, as recommended in the Garden Betty recipe. I would suggest cutting it into coins or large chunks instead – the stalks were too hard for my food processor, and so I ended up with some sharp/pokey pieces of lemongrass amongst the meat. 2 inch piece of ginger 2 large carrots Small corn tortillas To prepare the meat, mince the garlic, ginger, jalapeño, and lemongrass (I did mine in the food processor; see note). Combine those four ingredients, as well as the brown sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and fish sauce in a small pot over low heat. Cook until the brown sugar is dissolved, then pour into your slow cooker. Place the pork shoulder in the sauce, turning to coat, and then cook for 8-14 hours (I did mine for 8… but it definitely could’ve been softer and more fall-apart-tender, so I suggest going for longer). If you are opting to use the portobello mushrooms (which you really should), cut them into large slices and add them to the slow cooker 4 hours before the meat is done. Once the meat is nestled in the slow cooker, ready for the long haul, you can prepare your pickles. Peel and julienne the daikon and carrots, and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle them with the salt and 2 tsp of sugar, and then gently massage/knead them for 3 minutes. When the daikon is very bendy, and a little pool of water has collected at the bottom of the bowl, rinse the vegetables in cold water, and pat or press them dry with paper towels. Put them into a jar (or jars, depending on how big your jars are and how big your carrots and daikon were). Now make the brine by combining the 1/2 cup sugar, rice vinegar, white vinegar, and lukewarm water in a bowl and stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the brine over the vegetables in the jar, and allow to sit for at least 1 hour. In a jar, these will last for about 4 weeks in the fridge. When the meat is cooked, remove the strings, and pull it apart with two forks. Leave the slow cooker on warm while you warm you tortillas, slice your cucumbers and jalapeño, and pick your cilantro. Then, enjoy! P.S. The meat and sauce and toppings make great leftovers when heaped atop a bowl of fresh rice or soba noodles.
Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork Tacos
5 large cloves of garlic, or 6 smaller cloves
2 stalks of lemongrass
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tbl fish sauce
2 1/2 lbs pork shoulder roast
4-5 large portobello mushrooms (optional, but recommended)
1-2 large daikon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar plus 1/2 cup
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup lukewarm water
Slices of jalapeño (if you like heat)
Sauces: sweet chili sauce, Sriracha, plum sauce…