Pork. Has there ever been a kind of meat more versatile? Has there ever been a kind of meat that has been the subject of this much godly wrath? No. There hasn’t. Let me start by declaring my love for pork. Pigs are wonderful animals; apart from making great pets, and having loads of character, they are the symbol for nose to tail eating. Every part of the pig can be used in some delicious, mouth-watering way, including, well, a pig’s nose and tail. The meat is delicious, the bones make fantastic stock (and ramen!), the skins makes a cracking crackle, the fat affords itself to unbelievable roast potatoes, the blood makes bloody great black puddings, the offal is stuffed into sausages and terrines, the trotters walk with pride into any soup; and perhaps the greatest ingredient in the world, jamon iberico (Iberian ham) de bellota would not exist without the pig. I love pork. I truly do. But here’s the thing: in reality, I’ve only really started eating pork when I came to Australia. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone! Here’s why I’ve missed out on 20 years of porky delights.
Consider the map of Lebanon above, surrounded by the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Though feuding nations, the major religions of Lebanon’s two neighbours – Syria and Israel/Palestine (what’s the PC term?) – seem to agree on one thing: No Pork. Lebanon itself is a country that is around half Muslim, so fresh pork is never seen in the supermarket or at the butchers. Back when I was growing up, the only pork products one could get was stock standard ham and mortadella. At least, that’s what my father used to buy. The closest thing to fresh pork that I had tried was a wild boar that our friend and neighbour Mohammad killed on a hunting trip. Mohammad, as the name suggests, wouldn’t eat the wild boar, so he gave it to dad, his best friend. Dad got a Christian butcher to cut the pig up, and we invited the whole family over for a barbeque and a feast. It was awesome; the freshest of charcoaled, moist, full-flavoured free range meat – an experience to remember even 15 years later.
Cooking pork is not something I do too often, as I try to watch the waistline (expand). The tastiest bits of the pork are the fatty meats and the skin. When roasted for 6 hours, this pork shoulder becomes fork tender, flaky and just falls apart. You simply want to gnaw into it, crunching into the crisp crackling, sucking on the fatty under layer and shredding into the meat – but I did one better. When added to the fillings of a shawarma, our awesome roast pork makes a fine substitute for lamb. Lainy even thinks it makes a better shawarma than lamb does. Imagine the soft meat, the glass-like shattering crackle, the fattiness, all mixed in with creamy, lemony tahini, parsley, mint, sumac rubbed onions, pickles and a final punch of chilli. It doesn’t get much better. Try it. You’ll find you can’t stop till you’ve completely pigged out!
I roasted my pork shoulder the Jamie Oliver way. It’s sooo good. Check out his recipe here. It’s worth mentioning that using a bread knife makes scoring the pork skin much more easy, if your butcher doesn’t do it for you. I have a bit of a lazy butcher.
Make the tarator by mixing crushed garlic with lemon juice, tahini, salt and water. It needs to be thick but not too thick. Try to balance out the flavours depending on your brand of tahini. Use a Lebanese tahini as we make the best in the world, of course. Get some Lebanese bread, add some onions that are rubbed with sumac (here sumac is optional), chopped parsley, chopped mint (not traditional but I love it with pork), the tarator sauce, the shredded pork, some crackling, pickled chillis and pickled gherkins or cucumbers. Ready, set, destroy!