Rob likes to have dinner themes for his birthday parties. Last year, it was Japanese.
We had planned on going Ethiopian this year, as it is the theme of our current neighbourhood. However, we changed our minds at the last minute because I wasn’t in the mood to cook up 5 different cooked dishes.
While I can dream up menus for days on end, they involve vegan dishes. Rob knew that some of our guests might balk at the lack of meat, so he offered to make a Southwestern Pulled Brisket in the slow cooker. With his meal chosen, I crafted the remainder of the menu with it in mind.
Therefore, this year it was a hodge podge of Southern US and Mexican dishes, foreshadowing our next, next move to Texas in 2013. My (not so) discerning palate can’t tell the difference between Texan and Carolina BBQ styles, but I can tell you how delicious everything turned out.
I was initially hesitant, but Rob encouraged me to try my hand at jackfruit carnitas. We had all the fixings for great tacos for the brisket, so why not have another filling, too?
I eventually settled on a recipe for Carolina BBQ-inspired pulled “pork” from Jessica.
Jackfruit is a fruit from Southeast Asia. Rob tells me it tastes like bubble gum. While the ripe fruit is sweet, you can buy canned young jackfruit in brine, which is quite flavourless. It has been used as a meat substitute due to its texture. After being cooked, it pulls apart into stringy bits akin to pulled pork and beef brisket.
While Rob’s brisket took 8 hours in the slow cooker, my BBQ jackfruit pulled “pork” took an hour, tops.
They key of the recipe is the spice blend, and here we used a plethora of spices to capture a Southern BBQ flavour: sweet smoked paprika, Aleppo chili flakes, mustard, tomato and red pepper pastes, tamarind and vinegar for some tang and sweetness from the maple syrup (yes, that’s 4/8 of my favourite ingredients in one sauce!). Such a glorious BBQ flavour with a bit of a kick. Chile heads, again, feel free to use the suggested cayenne, but I though it was plenty spicy without it. Dry frying brought out the flavours from the dry spices, then a slow simmer expanded the saucy flavours. Baking it firmed up the jackfruit so that it was more akin to pork.
As the jackfruit bakes, or if you are more inclined to make the brisket (it had rave, rave reviews, btw, and Rob loved its sheer simplicity to prepare), make some pickled red onions. I know many people shun fresh red onions, and a quick marinade in vinegar with some salt and sugar can really bring out their flavour. We used the recipe suggested by Deb.
Both the brisket and BBQ jackfruit pulled pork was served with an assortment of toppings – shredded Romaine, chopped tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, sliced cabbage, avocado and the pickled red onions. While we had roti and pitas for guests, I opted to make wraps with Romaine lettuce leaves. The jackfruit was so flavourful that you didn’t need so much per wrap. While Rob’s 3 lbs of beef brisket easily fed 10 people, my 20 oz of jackfruit served more like 2-4 people, depending on how many toppings you added.
Carolina BBQ Jackfruit Pulled “Pork” Wraps
20 oz can young jackfruit, in brine
1/2 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Aleppo chili flakes
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I did not use! this was spicy enough without it!)
1/2 tsp ground yellow mustard
1/2 tsp black pepper (I used white pepper)
1/8 tsp garlic granules
1/8 tsp onion granules
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp red pepper paste (or substitute with more tomato paste)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp canola or other neutral oil
1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate
1/4 cup water
2 tsp maple syrup or agave
taco toppings – shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, sliced avocado, alfalfa sprouts and pickled red onions (see below)
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. In a small non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, add onion and garlic. Heat until caramelized and browned, around 9-10 minutes.
3. Drain and rinse the jackfruit well. Remove the solid centre pieces (see here for photos). Place jackfruit in a medium bowl.
4. Add Aleppo chili flakes, paprika, mustard, black pepper, onion and garlic granules and salt to the jackfruit. Sir to coat well.
5. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add spiced jackfruit. Heat until the spices are toasted and fragrant, around 5 minutes. Do not burn. Scrape any stuck on bits.
6. Meanwhile, in a small cup, mix together the tomato paste, red pepper paste, vinegar, oil, tamarind concentrate, water and maple syrup. Stir until well mixed. Add to jackfruit and deglaze the pan.
7. Once the onions are caramelized, add to the wet jackfruit mixture. Simmer jackfruit in its sauce for 15-30 minutes, until softened. Use a fork to shred the jackfruit into stringy bits.
8. You could stop here, but if you want a firmer consistency more similar to pork, spread hte mixture evenly on a silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes until slightly dried out.
9. Serve on a sandwich or as a taco with lots of fixins. I served mine on a large leaf of Romaine lettuce, topped with shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, sliced avocado, alfalfa sprouts and pickled red onions (see below for recipe).
Serves 2-3. Maybe, depending how generous you are your your toppings.
Pickled Red Onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar or agave
1 squirt of sriracha (or to taste, Tabasco is recommended)
1 red onion, halved and sliced into very thin rings
1. In a small bowl, vinegars with 1/2 cup of cold tap water. Stir in salt, the sugar and the hot sauce. Add the sliced onions and let sit for at least one hour. This can be made in advance and taste better after a longer marinade.