The picnic

This might not be what everyone thinks of when they hear the word picnic, but based on my experience last night, it should be.

The picnic up there is a pork picnic—the cut of meat just below the Boston Butt, on the low, strong part of the animal's front leg and chest. It is sometimes also called a shoulder, but so is the top chest cut, so I like to stick with picnic for clarity's sake. The picnic is a big cut of meat—about seven or eight pounds usually, with the bone still in. It tends to be fatty (and sometimes still with skin) on the underside, but up top, it's all meat. Most of the time, it ends up getting smoked and sold as a ham. But if you are lucky enough to get a fresh picnic, well, then it's slow-roasted jerk time.

Yesterday was the perfect day for a picnic. It was that first warm, sunny day, the first time you dare to throw open the windows and the doors and let the fire go out. Also, it was the first time it was warm enough to make mint juleps in my grandmother's hand-me-down silver julep cups. (Thank you Biee! We love them!) Since we were headed south with our drink recipe, it was only a small leap from Kentucky bourbon to pulled pork cooked in a Jamaican jerk paste.

We had real jerk in Jamaica in January when we went to a friend's wedding, and I have to say, this recipe isn't that. But it is delicious in its own right—in a spicy meets simple sort of way. It dances on your tongue the way we rocked and swayed to the reggae crooner on the lawn after their ceremony, and it is every bit as memorable. We ate it last night straight off the bone, and today pulled apart and stuffed into sandwiches made on a biscuity Irish soda bread spread with a gravy Alex cooked down from the extra fat and black beans cooked in the leftover jerk juice.

It wasn't the kind of spring picnic I usually take, but then again, yesterday wasn't your usual March day.


I had a very hard time deciding what to call this dish. It isn't really jerk, and it isn't really pulled pork—you can eat it first sliced, then pulled. But I realized the name doesn't really matter. What matters is simply that you buy the best meat you can—and that you don't skimp on the quality of the hot sauce. Otherwise, the only thing you'll have to do is set aside a warm spring afternoon, and enjoy.

juice of 3 limes
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 orange
1/4-cup habanero-based hot sauce
1/2 cup white vinegar
6 scallions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 medium pork picnic, roughly 7-8 pounds with the bone in
2 cups ham stock
2 cups water

Whisk together all the ingredients but the pork, the stock, and the water in a small bowl. Get out the picnic and trim any excess fat, and if there is any, skin. (Some cooks like to leave the fat and skin on to seal the juices in, so if you prefer to do things this way, go ahead. It will simply mean you have to do a little more trim work on the serving end. Either way, don't waste the fat—melted down and whisked together with a bit of flour and stock, it makes a superb gravy.) Place the picnic in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and pour the jerk paste in. Rub the paste all over the meat, and put the pot in the refrigerator for several hours, or up to overnight, to allow the picnic to marinate.

About four hours before you'd like to eat, take the pot out of the fridge. Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside. Add the ham stock and water to the jerk paste and bring them to a boil. Add the meat, turning it several times to make sure it is moist and still coated in seasonings, and turn the heat down as low as it goes. Cover the pot and leave the meat to simmer. Turn the meat every hour or so until the internal temperature reaches at least 160 degrees. If you prefer your meat a little bit more well done, go up to 170 or so. Turn the heat off and leave the meat to rest for a half hour.

Carving the meat is easy—it should be falling gently off the bone. Serve it warm, with plenty of the meat's cooking juices and something cooling like coleslaw or potato salad and maybe a mint julep or two. And if you have leftovers, be sure to make a pulled pork sandwich. Or a few.


Anonymous said...

MMMM, this looks like it takes some effort but also like it would be very tasty. I'll have to see if I can find a local picnic ham; that might be a challenge!

As always, thank you for the effort you put into this blog and for sharing such good ideas with your readers. It's much appreciated! ~A Maine Reader

Beth said...

Elspeth to the rescue, again. We were looking for something different for one of those big pork roasts.
Now if only you were experimenting with a huge slab of uncured bacon, or pork belly...

Elspeth said...

Beth, we actually DO have a large slab of uncured bacon in our freezer... !

I will have to do some brainstorming on that.


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