7 Great Ways to Use One Big Pork Butt
First Off, Don’t Toss That Pork Fat
Let’s talk about the least sexy part of the pig first—the lard. Ignore, for a moment, the supermarket version you might have tried once, and ignore the stereotypes about the stuff. Making your own lard from perníl is like making meat butter—in the best way. Hopefully you’ve confited (cooked the animal in its own fat) at least part of your roast as you’ve gone along. That will both lend the meat a luscious texture and produce some seriously yummy fat.
You can use lard in almost everything: biscuits, fried chicken, pie dough, vegetables, toast—the list goes on. As my pal Zeb Stevenson, chef of Atlanta’s Watershed on Peachtree, says of pork fat, “It’s the grease that keeps the machine going here.”
Stevenson has made rillettes (delicious French confited meat stored in its own fat), pâtés, terrines, lomo, and homemade sausages from ducks, geese, and rabbits, but thinks pork fat generally reigns supreme. “There’s something about the viscosity of pork fat,” he says. “It sticks to food better, transmits heat better. Pork fat is frickin’ gold.” Every ounce produced in the restaurant is re-used: Stevenson uses it for Peachtree’s well-known fried chicken, for his cornbread, in pâtés (even chicken pâtés) and for egg dishes. He’ll make cracklins, and confit other animals, such as lamb or duck, in it. “Pork is such a flexible flavor; it can be translated into almost any preparation. There’s a reason why the pig is the most consumed animal in the world,” he laughs.
As for me, I like to spin lard into spinach with bits of pulled pork from the perníl. I use it to spread on homemade bread for making killer toasts. And it is key to making homemade rillettes.
So you’ve got all this pork, and you’ve cooked it until you can easily tear it apart in its pan with two forks. Great. Chop some of it finely and mix it, two-to-one, with some of the reserved lard. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spread it on toasts, and maybe serve with cornichons or any other pickles you’ve got kicking around. It’s yummy and buttery and earthy and divine. In Paris, duck, rabbit, and pork rillettes are sold in little jars, and although perníl is not its classic preparation by any stretch—Stevenson points out it wouldn’t have employed acid—you can easily store a mix of pork mixed with fat under a thick layer of fat in the fridge, usually for up to a week. (And if you garnish it correctly, it’s much prettier than it sounds.)
Serve a Traditional Perníl
Traditionally, as at the New York restaurant Sofrito that my favorite recipe is based on, perníl is served with rice, pigeon peas, and sometimes plantains. Your house is going to smell so good when the roast is done that—after letting it rest for 5-10 minutes—there’s nothing wrong with dishing out big hunks of it for people to tear into on their own with whatever sides are handy.
Make Pulled Pork Breakfast Sandwiches
The morning after making this giant roast, I fried up a few eggs, made homemade biscuits, and plopped some pulled pork—which I’d shredded and placed under the broiler to crisp it up a bit—onto the biscuit with fig jam and the egg. Pork loves fruit, and this is the ultimate hangover-slayer.
Make Faux Tortas
Got rolls? Got an avocado? Good work. Toast up that roll—I used cheap store-bought whole-wheat rolls—with a bit of lard brushed on them. Layer on avocado (a quarter of an avocado should do you) and pile on crisp-from-the-broiler pork. Drizzle a ton of hot sauce (I like Crystal) over the whole. Marvel at your genius.
Make Carnitas Tacos
Because the perníl marinade is relatively subtle, you can easily transform those luscious strips of pork into carnitas for tacos. Simply layer shredded pork on to a sheet pan, brush with lard, and place under broiler until some pieces are crisp. Toast up tortillas in a pan or over open flames (carefully!) on a gas-top range. Add meat to taco along with chopped white onion and cilantro leaves, and serve with a wedge of lime and hot sauce, chopped jalapenos, or salsa.
Make Pork and Beans
I was starting to worry about all our pork consumption—it’d been part of every meal for days—when I remembered that I could dial down the meat and fat and rely on an alternative protein, such as my beloved cannellini beans. I sautéed garlic and shallots in a small amount of lard and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, added one can of cooked white beans, salt, and pepper, and poured in about ¾ cup of apple cider to briefly “braise” the beans. I added about ½ a cup of shredded perníl, covered the pan and walked away for 10 minutes. I added a splash of sherry vinegar, the whole dish smelled fantastic, and we gobbled it up right quick.
Give It Away
No one is as popular as the person who just made eight pounds of luscious perníl, so although you could store it as rillettes or freeze it, why not give it away while it’s still fresh? New parents, sick friends, and really anyone who loves pork will appreciate a drop-off, I found, especially when it’s delivered with a handful of tortillas, lime, avocado, chopped onion, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Perníl is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.