Prix Fixe: Putting Apple Cider Soaked Pork Shoulder Together with Pepper Jack Polenta and Sautéed Rainbow Chard

A few months ago I got an idea that I wasn’t really sure about.  I was thinking about all the different styles of barbeque out there and how one thing that crosses most styles is the use of vinegar to bring an acid punch to the dish.

It’s a punch that almost always hits a dish through the sauce, whether it’s the vinegar heavy sauce of the Carolinas or a tomato based sauce from Kansas City.  This got me curious about what would happen if you started early and brined your pork using vinegar.

What I was hoping to do is to have the pugnacious pop from the vinegar infused as an undertone to the dish, so you knew something was there without feeling like you were eating a big pork pickle.

The first time I tried the idea was during the Super Bowl, I had a small pork shoulder left over from something I was supposed to make the week before, so I thought what the hell, rubbed it down with a little apple cider vinegar, seasoned it up, and threw it in the smoker with everything else for the day.  Somewhere around 10 pm, I had one of those “Oh Shit” moments, when I realized the pork shoulder was still sitting in the smoker and people were starting to leave.

One thing I really love about my Smoke Vault, besides it being my favorite cooking device ever, is that when you have it set around 200 degrees it listens, it’s like it just says “yes sir”, and stays right there until you tell it to stop or it runs out of gas.  Anyways, I go out and pull this absolutely beautiful looking little pork shoulder out of the smoker and bring it inside.  The little bit of vinegar on it added this nice little tang while helping bring a tenderness that made it just melt in your mouth.

As with most things, a small amount of success encouraged me to go a little overboard.  This made me wonder what would happen if I used apple cider vinegar as a brine for a full-sized pork shoulder and built an entire meal around the vinegar and pork.

My second attempt was one of those rare moments where the idea in my head makes it to the plate.  What I wanted to do with the pork shoulder is bring some strong flavors to it that would complement the meat while standing on their own.  So I decided to take my basic polenta recipe and add some spice to it using pepper jack cheese and Anaheim peppers.  To round the dinner out I made one of my favorite side dishes that already included apple cider vinegar, which is sautéed rainbow chard.

Having more time and some experience working with pork and vinegar, I made a dry rub using strong flavors like garlic, Ancho chili powder, smoked paprika along with adding lemon and lime juice to the vinegar to add some bright citrus notes to the dish.  In the end, I decided that a long brine might mean the vinegar would overpower the pork, so I used a short half-hour soak instead, followed by a good four hours in the smoker.

To help round the night out I invited some friends over who enjoy the challenge of picking out the right wine to go with just about anything, which is something you want in friends when you tell them you’re making vinegar soaked pork in the smoker.  They brought over a couple of lovely wines, including a 2009 Sister Moon Toscana from Il Palagio and a 2008 Paso Robles Zinfandel from Stephen Ross that ended up going perfectly with the pork.

In the end the dinner was great, we got to spend time with friends we hadn’t seen in a while, the pork was moist and tender with a subtle tanginess from the vinegar, the polenta had a spicy bite that broke through vinegar in the pork without overpowering it, and the chard stole the show with its bright color and deep flavors.

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Mark Hinds

Mark Hinds

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Mark is Umami's publisher

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