Saturday, March 24, 2018

K is for: Kalua Pork {in a pressure cooker}

If you follow me on Instagram, and more specifically, Instagram Story, you probably know about my appreciation obsession with my multi-cooker. (More commonly referred to as an Instant Pot, except mine is a Breville, so I feel weird calling it an "Instant Pot.")

Many of my friends have been asking me for recipes, or if I have any posted on my blog. And every time it happens, I'm reminded of this Kalua Pork I made TWO MONTHS AGO and never posted.

Justin was working that particular day, so I busted out the tripod to take photos on my own. And while I'm actually kind of impressed with what I was able to accomplish in low winter light and the camera's timer function... I'm also not super thrilled about the photos so I kept putting off this post.

However, the photos don't do the actual food justice. This recipe is super simple (only 3 ingredients) and super versatile, and it can be on your dinner table in about 90 minutes.

My first experience with "Kalua Pork" (or Hawaiian pork) was while I was living in San Diego. There was a local Hawaiian restaurant that used to cater all of the weekly sports press conferences at San Diego State University. They would bring in giant pans of macaroni salad, white rice and this super flavorful, smoky pulled pork. If you have the real deal in Hawaii, a whole pig is generally wrapped in banana leaves and slow smoked underground in an imu. (Kalua pork literally means "pork baked underground.")

Since we are doing the exact opposite by speeding up the process in a pressure cooker, we have to achieve the smoky flavor with liquid smoke. I happened to have mesquite flavored liquid smoke on hand already, but if you can find the hickory flavor, that would be even better. The only other ingredient is Hawaiian sea salt, also called Alaea Sea Salt. It's an unrefined salt that gets its signature pink hue from the red volcanic clay found in Hawaii. I found this one-pound bag at Cost Plus World Market for around five bucks. (If you can't find any, you can substitute with regular sea salt.)

And that's it! Just 3 ingredients including the pork. That's why this recipe is so great! You'll want to start with a 3-4 pound pork shoulder (sometimes called Boston butt.) This was actually from a pig butchery class I took at The Brooklyn Kitchen, where we learned how to butcher a heritage, pasture-raised pig and take a bunch of the meat home!

Because the pressure cooker can sort of intensify the flavor of things, I would recommend going easy on the salt. I measured out 3/4 teaspoon per pound and seasoned the pork on all sides until I ran out. I also recommend cutting the pork into 3-4 even pieces to help the pressure cooking process and also get a nice brown on more of the meat's surface area.

Next, select "sear" (or "sauté" if you have an Instant Pot) and heat about a tablespoon of oil in the pot. Sear the pork on all sides, until some of the fat has rendered and you have a nice brown crust on all sides. (If your pork doesn't all fit at the same time, you can do this in batches.)

Mix together a cup of water and two teaspoons of liquid smoke. (You can always add more later, but you can't take away, so don't overdo it.) It's really important to use a full cup of water here (or more, if recommended by your multi-pot's manufacturer.) Unlike slow cooking, the pressure cooker uses pressure (obvi) created by steam to quickly cook the meat. Therefore, if you don't add enough liquid, it can't come to pressure and won't cook properly. (Also the case if the liquid you are using is too thick, so if you plan on adding BBQ sauce, do so once it's finished cooking.)

(On the other hand, using too much liquid can be bad as well. One cup is generally a pretty good rule of thumb to start with until you have a good feel for how your pressure cooker works.)

This is what the control panel of my Breville looks like (it's called the Fast Slow Pro if you're looking to purchase one.) My sister owns the wildly popular Insant Pot Duo, which I've used a couple times, so I can tell you that mine has more bells and whistles and settings, but they essentially do the same thing. The key when getting ready to cook: Select the highest pressure setting (mine is 12.0 psi) and "natural steam release." (On the Instant Pot, just select "high"... I believe it goes up to 11.6 psi.) The first time I made this pork, I was in a hurry because my friend Jaime was in town and coming over for dinner, so I did quick release and the pork wasn't quite as tender as I would've liked. I made it a second time last month and did natural release. It came out AMAZING. I cooked mine for an hour (plus the time coming to pressure and releasing it). All in, it probably took 90 minutes. Not bad for something that would normally take 8-10 hours in a slow cooker!

*Side note: you could also use the same recipe for slow cooking. Just reduce the amount of water to 1/2 cup and cook on low for 8-10 hours. 

Once the pressure has completely released, you can remove it to a bowl and shred. As for the cooking liquid... you can use it to keep the pork moist, but it will likely be pretty salty, so give it a quick taste test before you do. If it's a little too salty, remove a half cup (discard the rest), and dilute with another 1/2 cup of water (you can also add another teaspoon of the liquid smoke if you want a smokier flavor.) Return everything to the multi-pot and keep on "warm" until you are ready to serve!

I loved it just as is, served with a little cabbage (can also be cooked in the pressure cooker), rice (we did cauliflower rice) and purple sweet potatoes. However, you can certainly use this recipe as a base for BBQ pulled pork and add in some BBQ sauce in once it's finished cooking and serve it on rolls (maybe even Hawaiian sweet rolls like this recipe!) Like I said, it's an amazingly versatile recipe, so do whatever sounds best to you!

Do you have a multi-pot or Instant Pot? If so, what's your favorite thing to make in it? Is there a recipe you'd like to see on the blog? Let me know in the comments section below!

Kalua Pork (in the pressure cooker)

by Jaymee Sire
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 90 minutes
Keywords: pressure cooker entree gluten-free low-carb pork alaea sea salt liquid smoke

Ingredients (serves 6-8)
  • 3-4 pound pork shoulder
  • 2-3 teaspoons Alaea Sea Salt
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil (such as Safflower)
  • 2-3 teaspoons Liquid Smoke (preferably Hickory flavor)
  • 1 cup of water
  1. Trim most of the fat from the pork, and cut into four equal pieces. Measure out 3/4 teaspoon of salt per pound of pork, and season all sides with it.
  2. Set multi-cooker to sear (or sauté.) Heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and sear all sides of the pork, working in batches if necessary.
  3. Mix 2 teaspoons of liquid smoke with 1 cup of water and pour into the multi-cooker. Close and seal the lid. Manually select 12.0 psi (or "high") for one hour and use natural steam release.
  4. When pork has finished cooking and all steam has released naturally, open the pot and remove pork to a bowl. Shred with two forks.
  5. Taste the cooking liquid. If it seems overly salty, reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid and discard the rest. Dilute with 1/2 cup water and add remaining teaspoon of liquid smoke, if desired.
  6. Return liquid and pork to the pot and keep on "warm" until ready to serve. Serve with steamed cabbage, rice and sweet potatoes.
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