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Recipe: Spice rub takes grilled pork to new heights

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Grilled pork is a dish that comes together quickly and feeds a crowd. The aroma of fat over flames is among the chief reasons for choosing pork to open the grilling season.

Barbecue pork is always sublime. This is true whether you’re lighting the grill for the first time after a long, drizzly spring, or you live in a state of perpetual sunshine, taking your grill for granted.

Pork is even better when you have time to season the meat ahead. Here, I rub the meat down with a paste of cracked whole spices (fennel, caraway, cumin, coriander, peppercorns and red-pepper flakes) mixed with garlic and salt. The salt helps the spices and garlic infuse the meat, flavoring it all the way through. Even a few hours makes a huge difference, though the longer you let the meat marinate, the more flavorful it will become.

You can use this spice rub on any cut of pork, but a butterflied hunk, either shoulder or loin, will be large enough to feed a crowd. Of the two, I slightly prefer the shoulder. Shot through with connective tissue, it can be ungainly to work with (feel free to cut it into pieces so it’s easier to maneuver on the grill). But the flavor is rich and brawny, with a pleasingly chewy texture and a springiness to the fat when you don’t overcook it.

That said, the loin is more elegant — neater to slice and softer to eat. You could even use tenderloins if you keep them whole and grill the lean meat hot and fast, until singed but still juicy.

GRILLED PORK WITH WHOLE SPICES

By Melissa Clark

  • 5 to 6 pounds boneless, skinless pork shoulder or loin, butterflied (see note)
  • Lemon or lime wedges, for serving
  • >> Spice paste:
  • 1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving
  • 4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving
  • 12 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

>> To make spice paste: Using a mortar and pestle, pound together thyme, salt, cumin, coriander, fennel, caraway, peppercorns and red-pepper flakes until the spices are well cracked but not ground.

(Or do this in a spice grinder, but take care not to grind the spices.) Add garlic, oil and vinegar; pound into a paste.

Spread paste over pork, covering meat thoroughly and evenly. Place meat on a rimmed baking sheet, cover and marinate in the refrigerator at least 6 hours, or up to 48 hours (the longer the better).

Heat a gas grill or light coals. Lay the pork out on the grill so it is as flat as possible. Cover grill and let meat cook until char marks appear on one side, 7 to 12 minutes.

Use tongs and a large spatula to flip meat. Grill on other side until cooked to taste, 135 degrees for medium, 5 to 12 minutes longer. (It will continue to cook as it rests.)

Transfer meat to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Carve into slices; squeeze lemon or lime wedges over meat. Serve garnished with red-pepper flakes and thyme leaves. Serves 12 to 16.

>> NOTE: To butterfly pork shoulder, first cut off any skin. Next, lay the meat out in front of you lengthwise. You will see a thinner part running vertically at the center, where the bone was, and two thicker parts at each end.

Holding your knife perpendicular to the meat, cut through the thick parts to create a flap, and open each flap like a book. Your aim is to create a relatively even rectangular slab of meat about 1 to 2 inches thick.

If the meat is too awkward to handle, you can cut it into pieces. It will grill up just fine.

Nutritional information unavailable.

AND TO DRINK

To match these flavorings I would look to whites, specifically dry rieslings, whether from Germany, Austria, Alsace, or Australia.

Light reds are another option: Beaujolais would be a delight, as would Bairrada from Portugal, a traditional pairing with the local suckling pig.

I’ve had some excellent carignan wines from California and Languedoc that would be good matches, while a Provencal rosé would be the seasonal choice.

— Eric Asimov, New York Times

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