For two weeks in September, there was a lot of pork all up in here. By “pork,” I mean the meaty remnants of a 40-pound pig that my family roasted (we’ll get to the reasons why later, if you really need an explanation beyond “because it was there and we can”). By “all up in here,” I mean it was All. Up. In. Here. We had a multitude of gallon-sized Ziploc bags filled with chopped pork. Some of the pork I gave away as a parting gift to my cousin, her new husband, and their gaggle of friends that came to our house for the pig roast, which we threw to celebrate the new marriage. Other pork baggies made their way to neighbors. I saw my mom, who came with my dad to help us host the party, slip a couple of sacks of pork in her carry-on luggage for her flight back to South Carolina. Traveling with lukewarm bags of meat tucked inside one of my family member’s luggage is totally normal for us. Plus, I still had so much pork.
The next day, befuddled as to what to do with all of our leftovers, I whipped up an heirloom tomato jam and fried up some eggs. The pork got reheated and chopped, and voila! Pork and grits. It’s breakfast for dinner. Or dinner for breakfast.
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Before I delve into details about how to make pork and grits, I have to share a little bit of how we is how we do this crazy pig roasting here, my family and me. I’ve talked a little bit about it here (when Ge Ge, our now five-year-old son) turned one. We also attended a pig roast that I wrote about here, when we lived in Malaysia. In total, my dad has overseen the roasting of probably a dozen or so pigs (and lambs, if we’re counting) over the years since we bought my dad a Caja China for his graduation from law school (like all totally normal parents, my dad went to law school at the same time I did and finished not long afterwards).
Roasting a pig has a weird effect on people, I’ve discovered. The anticipation alone is an experience. My dad, with a pre-designated “helper” (this time, a longtime friend of ours, but other times, it’s my brother-in-law), set the pig inside the box around 11:00am, covering the entire aluminum lid with charcoal and setting it ablaze. The pig roasts inside the box through the indirect heat of the coals, and it roasts in far less time than it would if we dug a pit in our backyard. Still, the whole process takes a few hours, and it’s not like it’s a “set it and forget it” type of thing. You basically have to sit with the pig for the entire time to make sure you maintain a constant, even heat and that the temperature of the box rises to just the right temperature. The waiting period requires plenty of icy libations, folding lawn chairs, and lively conversation. Waiting is important.
By the time it’s time to let the caged beast out, people are giddy. There’s been a heady smoke building, and the charred scent of burning coals mixed with pig grease is intoxicating. The sight of an entire beast emerging from this plywood contraption is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It’s resplendent. Cell phone cameras rapidly fire to document each and every glorious drip of shimmery pork fat that dabs the driveway as the pig is toted inside like a vanquished conquest.
My contribution to the pig is logistical. I picked up the pig on the Tuesday before our Saturday roast from Westover Market, a local butcher shop and grocery store just a few minutes from our house. But I didn’t just shove that carcass in my ‘fridge and forget about it. Instead, I spent the first evening doing a lot of math to figure out the right proportions needed to brine it. Math makes my head hurt, so I had to call my dad on FaceTime. Plus, I didn’t want to do it wrong and then be held responsible for having ruined a pig roast for 50 people.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” you’re probably thinking right about now. “Where did you brine a 40 pound pig?” Well, I brined it where any good pig roaster would — in a cooler in my garage, of course. Not only did a 110 quart cooler fit my pig snugly, but I also managed to tuck in a considerable amount of ice packs around the thing. This step is crucially important to make sure that the pig’s core temperature doesn’t rise, causing an unsanitary breeding ground for bacteria. In short, I spent more time bathing that pig than I did my own children during those three days, and I’m not sorry.
After our friends and family had come and devoured our marvelous pig, we still, as I mentioned, had gobs of it leftover. By Monday, we’d cleared through our some of our other leftovers (my family and me can’t just leave well enough alone, and so we ordered catered “sides” of sauteed lobster, roasted chicken, shrimp lo mein and stir-fried calamari from a local Chinese restaurant). The pork remained; it was our delicious, lard-drenched Everest. After work, I rummaged through the ‘fridge trying to figure out what I’d make for dinner. I heaved a hefty baggie of our pork onto our kitchen counter and puzzled over it for a minute before I had an epiphany. Some local heirloom tomatoes that I’d bought before our gigantic Festivus sat ripening in a bowl on our counter, so I decided to make a tomato sauce (a “jam”) out of it and pair it with pork and a fried egg.
This dinner is easy enough that anyone can do it. Seriously. It’s all about timing with this one. You can make pulled pork in your slow cooker in the morning. Then, after work, the grits simmer while you make your heirloom tomato “jam,” and, just before serving, you fry up some eggs. It’s key here not to let your egg yolks overcook — part of the magic of this dish is letting that gooey egg yolk rupture from the pressure of your fork, coating delicious yellow goo over the tomato jam and pork to make a sexy mixture of meaty goodness. Pork and grits, guys. It’s the stuff of champions.
Alternatively, you could just set aside your entire week next week to brine and roast a pig AND THEN make these pork and grits. I’d fully support you in that, you know.
- 1 4-5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, trimmed
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon (for the tomato jam)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1.5 cups apple cider vinegar plus 0.5 cup extra (for the tomato jam)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar plus 3 tablespoons (for the tomato jam)
- 1.5 tablespoons Tabasco sauce (optional)
- 2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1⅓ cup grits, rinsed (not quick grits)
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups milk
- ½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh basil, rinsed, dried and chopped into ribbons
- Make the pork: Get out your crock pot and set it up.
- Slice the garlic cloves into slivers and make slits all over the surface of the pork shoulder. Tuck the garlic into the slits and season well with salt and pepper, then rub the pork shoulder all over with olive oil.
- Heat a heavy skillet large enough to fit the pork shoulder on medium high heat. Add the pork and sear on all sides to brown. Remove from heat and transfer to your crock pot insert. Add apple cider vinegar and cook on low heat for 8 hours.
- When the slow cooker is done cooking, gently remove the pork shoulder from the crock pot using tongs and transfer to a plate, reserving 2 cups of the liquid inside (be sure to strain the liquid so that there are no chunks). Let the pork cool slightly, then shred the meat using two forks. Stir in 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and the Tabasco sauce, season with salt and pepper, and mix the reserved liquid. Return the pork to the slow cooker to keep warm. (Note: I usually make batches of pulled pork at a time and freeze leftover portions, thus saving me this step during the week. Or I roast a pig. You know, whatever.)
- Make the grits: Put rinsed grits in a large heavy stockpot and add the butter, milk and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium low to allow the grits to simmer, stirring frequently.
- While the grits are simmering, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet (not a saucepan) over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, 0.5 cup apple cider vinegar and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Let the mixture come to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Let the tomatoes simmer for 20-25 minutes until the mixture is reduced and resembles a jam (it's thicker than a typical tomato sauce and should look kind of chunky and pasty).
- When the tomatoes look almost done, fire up a large nonstick skillet with a cover and drizzle with oil. Heat the pan on medium-high heat. Crack four eggs into the pan and immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and let the eggs fry on a low heat for 3-4 minutes until the whites are set but the yolks still look runny. Remove from heat but keep on the stove to keep warm.
- To serve, spoon heaping helpings of grits onto plates, then top with spoonfuls of tomato jam and a helping of pulled pork. Garnish with basil and an egg and serve immediately.