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Eric Akis: Pulled pork for a succulent sandwich

Tender roasted meat from pork back ribs is pulled, sauced and stuffed in buns with tangy, creamy coleslaw, creating delicious pulled pork sandwiches.
Tender, saucy and succulent pork rib meat stars in this version of a pulled pork sandwich. ERIC AKIS

On my computer, before it goes into sleep mode, photos I have stored on it will flash by on the screen for a few minutes. While that was occurring the other day a photo of a vendor selling barbecue ribs at an outdoor food festival popped up.

I took that photo years ago while visiting Plains, Georgia, where that food festival took place. I still remember how succulent those ribs were and how they were served. Two slices of white bread were set on a paper plate, half a rack of pork back ribs were set on them, along with a small cup of barbecue sauce. No cutlery was given, but a napkin was, which was a good thing.

To eat those ribs, and make use of that bread and napkin, I used my fingers to pull the meat off the bones, which was not a problem because it was so tender. I then sandwiched the rib meat between the bread with some of the barbecue sauce, creating what turned out to be one very tasty variation on a pulled pork sandwich.

Remembering that made me want to make my own homemade version of that sandwich. The process began with seasoning and cooking pork back ribs wrapped in foil in a low oven for about two hours. As the ribs cook in the foil, their natural juices release, steam builds and, by the end of cooking, they are very tender and have a deep, rich flavour.

After letting the ribs cool a short while, I pulled that tender meat off the bones and into a bowl. I then pulled any larger chunks of rib meat into smaller shreds.

I now had the key ingredient to make some wickedly good pulled pork sandwiches. And I accomplished that by heating that pork rib meat with some barbecue sauce and stock. The saucy meat was then stuffed into tender buns with tangy, creamy coleslaw. You could serve the pulled-pork rib sandwiches with pickles, potato chips and/or corn on the cob.

Pulled Pork Rib Sandwiches

In this recipe, pork back ribs are cooked until very tender. The meat is then removed from the bones, pulled into smaller pieces, sauced and stuffed in buns with tangy, creamy coleslaw, creating delicious pulled pork sandwiches.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 120 to 145 minutes

Makes: Four servings

2 full racks pork back ribs (each about 600 grams)

• vegetable oil or oil spray

1 Tbsp Cajun spice, or to taste (see Note 1)

1 cup store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce (see recipe below)

1/2 cup chicken stock

4 hamburger buns, split and warmed (see Note 2)

• tangy creamy coleslaw, to taste (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 300 F. Tear three 16-inch-long pieces of aluminum foil and set on a work surface. Cut each rack of ribs width-wise into three, three or four rib sections. Pat the ribs dry with paper towel. Lightly oil the centre of the top of the foil on which you will set the ribs. Set two sections of ribs in the centre of each piece of foil, setting them meaty-side-up. Sprinkle and rub the ribs with Cajun spice.

Seal ribs in the foil. Set ribs in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake ribs two hours to two hours and 15 minutes, or until falling off the bone tender. Remove ribs from the oven and open up the foil packages. Let ribs cool 10 minutes. Pull the rib meat off the bones and into a shallow bowl. Pull any large pieces of rib meat into smaller shreds (see Eric’s options).

Place the shredded pork rib meat into a 10-inch skillet with the barbecue sauce and stock. Set over medium heat and cook and stir the meat a few minutes, until piping hot and nicely sauced.

To make the sandwiches, mound some of pulled pork rib meat on the bottom half of each bun. Top with coleslaw, to taste, and the tops of the buns. Serve any leftover coleslaw alongside the sandwiches.

Eric’s options: You can pull the rib meat off the bones and shred it many hours before making the sandwiches. Once cooled to room temperature, cover and refrigerate the meat until ready to reheat with the barbecue sauce and stock.

Note 1: Cajun spice is sold in bottled spice/herb aisle of most supermarkets. If yours does not contain salt, season the ribs with salt before cooking. If you want to make your own Cajun spice, in a small jar, combine 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Use what you need for the recipe and save the rest for another time.

Note 2: The tender buns I used were the deluxe brioche buns made by Saanichton-based Portofino Bakery, which sells its products at food stores around the Island.

Tangy Creamy Coleslaw

Here’s creamy, tangy coleslaw you can use in the pulled pork rib sandwiches.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: Four servings

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp cider vinegar or rice vinegar

1 tsp honey

2 3/4 cups finely shredded green cabbage

1/2 cup grated carrot

1/4 cup finely diced celery

1 large green onion, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced, width-wise

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine mayonnaise, vinegar and honey in a medium bowl. Add cabbage, carrot, celery and green onion, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate coleslaw until needed. It can be made an hour or two before serving.

No-cook Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Here’s a full of flavour, no-cooking-required barbecue sauce you can make at home using condiments, seasonings and other ingredients you might already have on hand.

Preparation time: Five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: About 1 1/2 cups

1 cup ketchup

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp cider vinegar or rice vinegar

1 Tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp dry mustard or Dijon mustard

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 to 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 tsp dried oregano

• splashes of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, or other hot pepper sauce

Place ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Transfer barbecue sauce to a tight sealing jar and ­refrigerate until needed. Its flavour will further develop as it sits. The sauce will keep a week or more in refrigerator.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.