‘Tis the season for slow cookers — while I love stews, soups and all sorts of chili, I can’t help but start Crock-Pot Season with a little bit of the Aloha spirit. Simply take a tender roast pork with a light hint of sea salt and great smokey flavor and you’ve got the mainstay of a Hawaiian luau: kalua pork.
When I say kalua, people assume I’m talking about the cordial. Kalua is the Hawaiian word for a roasting technique that involves cooking underground with leaves and hot coals. Kahlua, on the other hand, is a coffee liquer, and seems to play a role in every 20-something’s life (OMG I remember those B-52 shots). But do keep your mudslides, White Russians and chocolate martini concoctions close-by, because this recipe is so easy, you’ll need something to pass the time.
Like any slow cooker recipe, careful preparation and timing will yield fantastic results with very little work. My advice is to simply prep the meat, stick it in the refrigerator, then start it in your crock-pot the night before, typically when you go to sleep. Use a slow-cooker liner and you’ll have even less to clean-up. The pork takes about 10 minutes to prepare, 16 hours to cook and plenty of forks to enjoy.
A couple of notes on the ingredients: first, there are only four. Don’t try to add more or get fancy. Simple and straightforward will give you the most authentic flavors. Also, most grocery stores will carry banana leaves in the freezer section. An Asian or Latin market will also have them. If you can’t find them, you can omit from the recipe. Hawaiian Sea Salt is the most authentic way to prepare the pork, but if you don’t have easy access to it, I recommend Himalayan Rock Salt or any coarse Sea Salt. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to turn the crystals into loose powder. Some salts are bottled with a built in grinder, making it even easier to enjoy.
Once it’s ready, you can serve the kalua pork with rice and cabbage (as they do in Hawaii) or do it luau style, with sweet bread rolls and macaroni salad. If you have a lot of leftovers, you can try your hand at making manapua. Personally, I happen to love the pork on a sweet roll, with a combination of spicy sriracha and creamy mayonnaise, smashed together with sour dill pickles and a drizzle of teriyaki sauce. Be as traditional or creative as you like. I’ve even seen the pork grilled between tortillas and rolled up into quesadillas, or served on top of fried wonton chips and smothered in cheese and green onions for a Pacific twist on nachos.
‘Tis the season for good eating, right? Enjoy this easy recipe.
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork
Yields: 8-10 servings
Cook Time: 16 hours
4 pounds pork shoulder roast, also known as pork butt
4 teaspoons liquid smoke
Coarse Sea Salt or Hawaiian Rock Salt (lightly ground)
Banana Leaves, enough to wrap meat
Optional Serving Ideas: steamed rice, shredded cabbage, sweet rolls and macaroni salad
- Using a small knife, cut small slits in the roast. Coat the roast generously with the salt, rubbing salt into the slits. Sea salt is not pungent like table salt, so coat the meat well.
- Place two banana leaves together so they are overlapping (you may need kitchen scissors to cut the leaves down to size). Lay the roast in the center of the leaves. Pour all four teaspoons of the liquid smoke over the meat. Wrap the meat in the banana leaves and tie with butcher’s twine to secure. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
- When ready to cook, place the meat in a slow cooker set on LOW. Cook, covered and un-disturbed, for 16 hours.
- Remove meat from slow cooker and place in a dish or plate with a rim (I use a 13 x 9 rectangular baking dish). Carefully unwrap the meat and allow to rest, 15 minutes.
- Pour all the juices from the slow cooker into a fat separator or similar shaped tool, such as a liquid measuring cup. Skim off fat. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a pot. Add the remaining juices and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke. Taste and season as desired.
- With two forks, shred the pork. Pour the juices from the slow cooker evenly over the pork. Serve hot or cold.