pork. fashion.

So can we talk about how the pork shoulder is the little black dress of the food world?

Thank you.

It’s versatile, it’s foxy, and as Mom told me once, the best way to be frugal with your grocery bill is to make “a nice roast.” Moms are generous with their advice. Mine also told me when I was 14 that I looked “tough” in the above-the-knee purple suede skirt I was trying on at Marshalls, and would not let me buy it. (Mom, I still do not understand what “tough” means in this context. And I write for a living.)

ANYways, I’ve probably worn all sorts of tough clothes since moving to New York City, and remain freaked out by the notion of making one of those giant, cooked-to-death Irish-Catholic Roasts, which seemed to last in the fridge about a year.

Pork, apparently, is a different story. We didn’t eat much of the Other White Meat growing up, but the first cubano I sampled in Gotham hooked me. Hard. Now I crave pig of every stripe: prosciutto; tonkotsu ramen; banh mis; cubanos; al pastor tacos; you name it. But pure economics have to factor into my obsession, and I can’t continue to blow $6 to $9 a pop on pork-and-fennel-sammies and croque madames at cafés.

So — look, Ma! — I bought a pork shoulder from Paisanos, one of the best butchers around, for $11. Six pounds of it. I lugged it home, unloaded it on the counter with a thud, and realized I do not, in fact, have a flock of yawping babies to feed, but am a single woman in the city. What the *&^%(* was I thinking.

It was hog heaven for a full week. I cooked the sucker up Puerto Rican-style using this pernil recipe. The apartment reeked of garlic. A fellow food writer deigned to swing by, pronounce it done, and snack on half a pound of it. I fed two pounds’ worth of tacos to friends the next night. Monte Cubanos were consumed on day three. By the end of the week I was fat, happy and making my own banh mis because I am a freaking genius — and had a lot of help from my buddy Adam of the fine blog Fifty Bucks a Week.

The lesson? You, my child, can totes make banh mis at home. And then bring them to work. Think of the admiring looks you will garner in the office kitchen when you unwrap ’em.

* Illustration by Edith Head. Photoshopping by Eric Brown.

Banh mi (makes 6)
(Adapted from Adam Pollock)

2 pounds pork shoulder, seasoned and cooked (I like this pernil recipe)
1 large cucumber, cut into matchsticks
3 carrots, cut into tiny (1/8″ or smaller) matchsticks or grated coarsely
White wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
Bread: 6 banh mi rolls (check your local Chinatown), 2 fluffy Italian loaves or 1-2 not-too-hard baguettes
3 jalapenos, sliced into rounds (optional)

Chop one pound of pork shoulder into small dice. Briefly sauté crumbled pork in two teaspoons sriracha (or to taste) and one teaspoon of mustard. Remove from heat. Add tablespoon or two of mayo (or more, to taste). Add carrots to bowl of 2:1 water-to-vinegar mixture (start with 1/4 cup of water), with a generous pinch each of sugar and salt. Pickle for five minutes, to taste. Slice second pound of pork shoulder thinly. Mash garlic into three tablespoons of mayo. Set aside. Toast rolls briefly if desired. Assemble sandwich: Spread garlic mayo on lower half of roll, top with crumbled spicy pork, sliced pork, cucumbers, carrots, and finally cilantro. Add jalapenos, if desired, and more garlic mayo to top half of roll if you like. High-five everyone in sight.

(Note: This recipe from Chow uses pork paté, and this one a sort of Vietnamese bologna, which has an awesome texture. Play around; see what you like and what you’ve got in the kitchen.)

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