Do you love rubs as much as I do? They are brilliant—mix up, rub on your meat, pop in the oven (or on the grill), and reap the deliciousness. What could be better than something this easy for this insane time of year, when we’re lucky to emerge from our houses fully-dressed, right-side up, each morning? You can certainly improvise, or go with something as simple as salt, pepper, and garlic powder, a combo that, I swear, makes beef taste extra-aged. Or you could go with one of these two, that I love so much I have actually written about them before (but not here, so you’ll pardon the re-gifting, I hope?).
The first is from Peter Hoffman, the chef and owner of Back Forty in New York City. I have adapted recipes of his before for magazines, and I have eaten at his restaurants, and I can report that this guy is the real deal, adept at both being a top chef AND writing recipes for lay people (a rare skill). But back to the rub: It’s essentially a bunch of spices ground together—bay leaf, smoked paprika, cumin seed and cardamom among them—and then enhanced with some chopped fresh garlic, olive oil, and brown sugar. After an hour in the oven, the pork emerges juicy, so flavorful, and with lots of amazing red juices that you’ll want to pour not only over the meat, but over your mashed potatoes or rice, or whatever you’re eating with it.
The other is from this cookbook by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, which documents recipes from lesser-known (to us, anyway) reaches of China, many adapted directly from nomadic tribes. It is so simple, with so few ingredients, but the power is in what one of the ingredients is: Sichuan peppercorns. If you’ve never eaten them or cooked with them before, they can be a bit of a surprise. Rather than taste of heat, these peppercorns numb the mouth, I will say pleasantly, although the first time I ate them I was mostly delighted by them but slightly convinced I was going into anaphylactic shock. That aside, the pork also has an amazing, familiar aroma, from a dash of nutmeg, and makes an ordinary dinner taste like something special.
Don’t overthink either of them. I know the Lisu-rubbed pork calls for bacon fat—I have skipped it completely if I don’t have it lying around, and the roast turns out fine. And as for cuts, you can use practically anything—tenderloin, pork butt—and just roast it at 350 for an hour. If you have the time, doing the shoulder with the skin on, as Hoffman requests, is amazing, yes. But a rub, a simple cut, and an hour will get you to a very, very happy place even so.