“Once or twice a year, our family decamps to Hawaii—our home away from home,” writes Michelle Tam in Nom Nom Paleo. “I love everything about the islands: the people, the pace, the climate, the beaches, the sunsets, the food.
“Foremost among the Hawaiian dishes I crave? Kalua pig.
“Often the headlining dish in a lu’au, kalua pig is the epitome of slowroasted porky goodness. And I do mean slooow.
“To make kalua pig the old school way, you first have to dig an imu—a big underground pit oven—and build a fire in it. Into the imu goes a whole pig, stuffed with hot volcanic rocks and wrapped in ti and banana leaves. The pig (pua’a in Hawaiian) is usually enveloped by chicken wire, too, so that once the pork is cooked and ready for removal, the fall-apart-tender meat stays together. The pua’a is then covered by burlap, a tarp, and a mound of dirt. Eight to ten hours of slow roasting (and a good amount of shoveling) later, dinner is served.
“But something tells me that your local fire marshal is less than enthusiastic about you excavating part of your backyard so you can bury and cook a pig in it. So to keep you out of trouble, here’s a much less labor-intensive recipe for succulent, Hawaiian-style kalua pig. All you need are a few strips of bacon, a pork roast, Hawaiian sea salt, a slow cooker, and a little patience. The slow cooker helps retain all the juices of the meat, producing a roast pork that’s ridiculously tender and flavorful.” — Michelle Tam
- 3 slices bacon
- 1 (5-pound) pork shoulder roast, bone-in or out (it doesn’t matter)
- 5 garlic cloves (optional)
- 1½ tablespoons coarse Alaea Hawaiian sea salt
- Line the bottom of a slow cooker with bacon slices. (No bacon? No worries. You can replicate the smoky flavor with 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika rubbed over the surface of the pork. Bacon does make it better, though.)
- If desired, make 5 small incisions in the pork roast and tuck the garlic cloves inside.
- Season the pork with the sea salt, making sure to get it in all the nooks and crannies.
- Place the roast in the slow cooker on top of the bacon, skin-side up.
- Cover and cook on low for 16 hours or until the meat is tender and easily shreds with a fork.
- When the pork’s done, transfer the roast to a separate platter before shredding. Don’t shred the pork directly in the slow cooker; the cooking liquid can render the meat too salty.
- Season to taste with some of the remaining cooking liquid before serving.
Coarse and unrefined, Alaea sea salt gets its deep terra-cotta hue from alae, a purified red volcanic clay that originated on the island of Kauai. The red clay is more mineral-rich than most salts, and imparts a subtle earthiness to dishes. I stock up on Alaea salt whenever I visit Hawaii, but you don’t need to fly to paradise to get your hands on this wondrous ingredient—it’s widely available for purchase online. Even if you don’t have any Alaea salt on hand, don’t fret. There’s nothing quite like the real thing, but in a pinch, any coarse salt will work.
PUT THAT PIG TO WORK!
Juicy, tender slow cooker kalua pig is fantastic when served as-is, but it also makes for an incredibly versatile filling. I’m not kidding, folks: you can stick it in just about anything, and it’ll be delicious.
Entertaining visitors for brunch? Make porky breakfast scrambles, omelets, or frittatas. Hosting a Mexican fiesta? Fill crisp lettuce tacos with savory kalua pig and top it with homemade guacamole and tomatoes. (Call it carnitas, and your guests won’t be the wiser.)
And on those busy nights when you’re desperately in need of emergency protein (and wishing you were magically whisked away to Hawaii), just grab your leftover pork and toss it on a summer salad or wrap it in toasted sheets of nori. Dinner’ll be on the table in no time at all!