Slowly learning to slow cook

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 Slow cooked pork

Slow cooked pork (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / March 2, 2013)

Fast friends swear by their slow cookers, so I bought one.

Turns out to be a ceramic tub (the crock) that slides into a metal housing (the pot). It's like a Dutch oven with a plug. My actual Dutch oven took one look, pulled its enamel lid tight, and pivoted toward the wall.

I shrugged and read the instructions: toss in the ingredients, turn the knob and wait.

I piled in tomatoes, onion, oregano and meatballs, twisted the knob to "low" and walked away.

Which felt wrong. Soon I was back in the kitchen, peering through the glass lid, trying to resist opening, stirring, prodding. Where, I wondered, was the convenience in stretching a 2-hour recipe to 6?

At midnight, the tomato-and-meatballs earned a shrug. The onions could have used some sauteing, the meatballs some browning — tricks the slow cooker doesn't turn. The Dutch oven, sulking on the countertop, flashed a smug look.

I compiled a lemon chicken tagine, savoring the convergence of new and old. It emerged soggy. The Dutch oven smirked.

Then I remembered that lacquered pork from Momofuku, the clutch of umami-happy restaurants in New York. Everyone loves it. My friend Michele says the first time she made it her family, seeking the last shards, stabbed each other.

I'd never bothered, given that it calls for 6 hours in a standard oven. Which struck me as a perfect fit for the slow-cooker. I plunked in the pork, turned the knob and went to sleep.

And awoke to the dream that I lived upstairs from Momofuku Ssam Bar. I breakfasted on crumbly caramelized pork. It was so good even the Dutch oven shrugged.

And, I located the convenience: in bed. Finishing a 10-hour braise before daybreak can make the slowest of cooks feel downright swift.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

Slow Pork

Prep: 15 minutes

Wait: 6 hours

Cook: 10 hours

Serves: 4 to 6

FOR PORK:

4-pound bone-in pork shoulder (aka Boston butt)

1/3 cup sugar

kosher salt

¼ cup brown sugar

FOR GARNISH:

1 ¼ cups thinly sliced scallions ¼ cup grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon sherry vinegar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

TO SERVE:

Cooked rice

Bibb lettuce leaves

Kimchi

Spicy sauce

Rub: Rinse and pat dry pork. Toss together white sugar and 1/3 cup salt; rub all over pork. Slide into a zip-top baggie and chill, 6 hours (or overnight).

Roast: Pull out pork, discard bag and juices. Rinse and pat dry. Settle in a large (5- to 7-quart) slow cooker set on low. Let cook, turning once, until crazy tender, about 10 hours.

Mix: Stir together ingredients for scallion garnish.

Caramelize: Pull out pork. Let rest on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss together brown sugar and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt; rub all over pork. Slide into a 500-degree oven until caramel-brown, about 10 minutes.

Serve: Set out the pork shoulder, whole, along with rice, lettuce, scallions, kimchi and sauce. Let each diner pull off shards of meat and wrap in lettuce along with rice and condiments.

Provenance: Adapted from "Momofuku" by David Chang and Peter Meehan.

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