The weekend before last I cooked a bunch of pork for an engagement party. As a luau theme was chosen, I decided to cook classic kalua pork. Traditionally in Hawaii, kalua pork is prepared in an imu, where a pit is dug and they heat up coals and rocks (the rocks retain heat) then lay banana leaves over the rocks and throw a pig on there. They cover the hole back up and let the pork cook for six or more hours, at which point the equivalent of a college football tailgate commences. The pork roasts, but there’s also a steaming effect inside of the layer of leaves which provides very moist meat.
When I spent a semester in New Zealand I found they did something very similar, though they call it a hāngi.
Obviously this cooking method is a difficult prospect in Georgia. And I’m pretty sure it goes against my HOA by-laws. Luckily, there are a few methods to be found online. I didn’t follow a particular recipe exactly, and I certainly didn’t use liquid smoke.
I purchased a boneless pork shoulder from Costco and cut it roughly into thirds. It was $25 for 15# or so, a great price. The piece above is the largest. After scoring and seasoning the skin with a nice pink salt, I wrapped it thoroughly in leaves from BHFM and tied it with these reusable oven proof rubber bands which I find to be very useful (I also truss chickens with them).
After wrapping tightly in aluminum foil, into the oven it went at 450F for 5-6 hours. It’s a very high heat but I had it sitting across (not in) a pan of water, which I refilled many times. The pork effectively cooks in a steam bath. Every time I opened the oven, a burst of brutally hot steam would shoot out. I recommend taking care to not burn yourself if you attempt this method, it is quite easy to do so.
Below is the finished product, after shredding for service. The pork was extremely moist, though it begins to dry out significantly after cracking it open. I recommend eating quickly. Though little seasoning is used, the pork took on a umami-ish tea-like flavor which I quite enjoyed.
Though it didn’t necessarily need it, I also made a mango bbq sauce for the pork, as we were assembling sliders. I’d make this again, though this recipe makes more than anyone could need.
I had quite the stash of leftovers. My next-day version of the slider featured kimchi on Hawaiian rolls, which everyone loves. And why not? The number three ingredient is sugar. And number four? “Liquid sugar.”
While I cooked two of the pork shoulder thirds in the leaves, I froze the other portion for later. Yesterday I seasoned it, seared it, wrapped it in bacon, seared it again, deglazed, tied it up, then braised it in water with celery, carrot, onion, lots of pineapple, and some star anise and sichuan peppercorn scented soy sauce. I braised it at 225F for six hours.
I tossed the vegetables, strained the sauce twice through cheese cloth, then reduced to one cup, pouring a few tablespoons of the syrupy sweet and pork fat enriched liquid on the slices of pork at service. It didn’t look pretty but it tasted “allright-allright-allright.” The pineapple was strangely interesting too; full of pork flavor, with pineapple déjà vu.