Earlier this year Mark was offered the opportunity to buy many, many pounds of pork loin at a very reasonable price. He did not realize when he agreed to purchase said pork loin that it would be delivered frozen in the form of "whole pork loin," which I think is a beast he had never before encountered.
Here is one of the pork loins inside my large deep freezer (baking soda box added for scale):
I'm not actually sure how many pounds this thing weighs, because I would have to take it upstairs and weigh it using the Baby Method, where by you step on the scale holding the frozen pork loin, then hand the frozen pork loin to someone else ("Here, hold my pork loin"), and then perform a subtraction, presumably while your loin-weighing partner is daintily juggling the meat from hand to hand so that it does not conduct enough thermal energy away from his or her skin to generate frostbite.
I do know that it does not fit in my microwave oven, crockpot, or sink. Had it been delivered unfrozen, I might have cut it and its brother loins (we had something like eight of them) into reasonably sized pieces, wrapped them individually, and then frozen them as roasts and steaks and the like. As is, I let them sit in my freezer most of the summer as I brooded over the best way to deal with them. A repentant Mark offered to cut them up with some sort of power tool, but I accepted that, just as bringing home the bacon (so to speak) falls under his sphere of domestic responsibilities, preparation of said bacon mostly belongs in mine.*
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Anyway, the frozen pork loin almost fits in my picnic cooler, so (after reading up on related topics, viz. the brining of Thanksgiving turkeys) I jammed it into the long-diagonal dimension of the picnic cooler. Then I set the picnic cooler on my kitchen counter, with the little drain hole oriented over the sink for safety (but closed), and filled it with water by holding down the trigger of my sink-sprayer-on-a-hose for, like, ever. I mostly closed it (it wouldn't quite close) and went away.
The first time I did this, I dutifully changed the water surrounding the pork loin, as food-safety experts say you should now and again when you are thawing meat by submerging it in cold water. This turned out to be more trouble than I expected. After the drain plug, which is attached with a flexible strip of plastic to the outside wall of the cooler, the rest position of the pluggy bit interrupted the jet of water, deflecting a spray in all directions. Just as I had had to stand there filling the cooler by holding down the trigger of my sink-sprayer with my aching thumb -- indeed, just as I would have to stand there again to refill the cooler by holding down said trigger -- I had to stand there holding the pluggy bit out of the way so that the water would course down into the sink, tracing a neat ever-diminishing parabola.
A very cold parabola. After a while I thought to go find a thermometer (after momentarily re-plugging the drain) to discover the temperature of a cooler of water in which a fresh-from-the-deep-freezer, plastic-encapsulated pork loin has been resting for several hours. I discovered that the temperature was, in fact, colder than my refrigerator, which food-safety experts assure me is a delightful and life-affirming location for thawing meat. I decided not to bother changing the water again. By this time the pork loin was squishy enough that I could close the cooler all the way, so I did.
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I did all that stuff right after breakfast. The pork loin was thawed enough to cut into pieces by about two in the afternoon. I cut it into about six pieces. About a third of it went into my smaller slow cooker (the round one -- I think it's a 3-quart, but I'm not sure -- why the heck didn't Crock-Pot® print the size on the outside somewhere?), and about two-thirds of it went into my bigger slow cooker (the oval one). And then I added a carefully researched liquid, divided proportionally to match the proportional division of the pork loin, as follows:
Liquid What I Cooked The Slab O'Pork In
- One liter of Coca-Cola
- 3/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- A whole lot of freshly ground pepper
Oh, and I think the first time there was some pork sticking up out of the liquid, so I put a piece of bacon on that bit.
I put the slow cookers on low, and I cooked it for twenty-four whole hours. I mean, it was three o'clock by the time I had it all in the cookers, I couldn't exactly have it ready for dinner. And I didn't want it for breakfast or lunch. So, yeah, I cooked it for an entire day.
And then I shredded it and froze it in Ziploc bags with enough liquid to moisten, and I had something like 13 pounds of cooked pulled pork.
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Most of the time when I try new recipes, I figure out something I should do to tweak them. None of that here. The Coca-Cola plus vinegar is just the right blend of sweet and sour, the garlic and chili powder just the right kind of spicy, to be sufficiently neutral for all manner of applications.
The first day we had the pulled pork on homemade wheat buns with an assortment of bottled barbecue sauces, cole slaw, and applesauce.
Later I put the meat plain on telera rolls, topped them with sautéed peppers and onions, and melted Provolone cheese on it under the broiler -- sort of a cheesesteak, or rather, a cheesepulledpork.
Another time I made banh mi out of them, on baguette with pickled carrots, cilantro, Braunschweiger standing in for the French pâté, sliced jalapeños, and fish sauce.
Another time I made pork fried rice, with pineapples.
Another time I mixed it with hoisin sauce and we rolled it up in tortillas with gingery cole slaw.
Last week I stuffed it with barbecue sauce into baked potatoes and melted cheese on top -- a Budget Bytes inspiration. (There are many recipes there that use pre-cooked shredded meat -- this was one.)
Anyway, just about anything that calls for shredded meat, this will work in, from pizza to enchiladas to tacos to stir-fry. I highly recommend it. If you are using a smaller piece of a pork loin that fits in one crock pot, use between one-third and two-thirds of the cooking liquid amount that I described. Or go ahead and invest in a giant slab of frozen meat and a picnic cooler. You won't be sorry, even if you wind up with an aching thumb.
*Unless the propane grill is involved, the investigation of the reasons for which is a cultural-anthropology dissertation for another day.