Don’t expect James Beard to coming knocking at the door for this one. (Not that I would expect anyone to come knocking at the door for reasons other than vinyl-siding solicitation, but you know what I mean.) This stuff is unabashedly lowbrow, cheap and addictive, and easily serves 4 with possible leftovers.
It was born of the need to use up both some vinegar-based North Carolina barbecue sauce I made last month and an aging hunk of pork shoulder left over from a tamale-making project back in July. Obviously you can use any pasta you have on hand—as well as any other kind of chicken, pork or beef; a pound of ground beef would go quite well if you can find it for under $3/lb.—but the pasta shape is key. The more ridges it has to trap the sauce and meat, the better.
In fact, if you or someone you know has a Costco membership, see if you can pick up some imported Garofalo pasta. It will change your life. I have an enormous stockpile in my basement in case Costco decides to stop carrying it, and even so, when that day inevitably comes there will be much rending of garments. You can’t un-taste the perfect pasta. (And did I mention it’s $1.19 a pound? ONE DOLLAR AND NINETEEN CENTS A POUND! For the best pasta you’ve ever had in your life! Run! Go!)
12 oz. pork shoulder (originally on sale for $2.79/lb., or chicken, pork, or beef of your choice), chopped into small bite-sized pieces: $2.09
1 lb. radiatori: $1.19 (at Costco)
If you’d like, you can skip the below steps and use your own favorite barbecue-sauce recipe so long so it has enough acid to cut the richness of the meat. Don’t even think of using bottled, not only because of the cost, but because it will undoubtedly be too sweet. I highly recommend the sauce below because it has just the right mix of sweetness and tang to complement both the meat and the pasta.
1 cup Carolina BBQ Sauce consisting of slightly diluted apple cider vinegar with New Mexico chile powder and salt to taste, OR 2/3 cup plain apple-cider vinegar: $1
1 1/4 cup ketchup: $1
5 T brown sugar: 25 cents
1 T white sugar: 10 cents
1/2 T freshly ground black pepper: 2 cents (bulk)
1/2 T onion powder: 5 cents (bulk)
1/2 T ground mustard: 3 cents (bulk)
1 T lemon juice from 1/2 lemon: 30 cents
1 T worcestershire sauce: 8 cents
1/2 onion from the yard, chopped: $0
1 cup water: $0.
1 T vegetable oil: 5 cents
TOTAL: $6.08/4 = $1.52/person (add some torn romaine—about 1/5 of a $1 head—and 1 T/person homemade salad dressing for 25 cents)
Heat 1 T vegetable oil in a medium saucepot over high heat, add the pork shoulder if using, and brown on all sides (in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan). If not using pork shoulder, brown whatever other kind of meat you’re using. Remove to a bowl.
Add more oil if necessary and sauté the onion until translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Add the ketchup, Carolina BBQ sauce or cider vinegar, water, sugars, pepper, onion powder, mustard, lemon juice, and worcestershire. If using the pork shoulder or another tough cut of meat, add that meat and its accumulated juices as well. If you’re using chicken or a more tender cut of pork, add it back in after simmering the sauce on its own for 40 minutes. If you’re using ground meat, add it back into the pot when you start the pasta, below.
Simmer the sauce for 1 hour. At this point, cook the pasta in another pot of boiling salted water until just before al dente, reserving about 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water before draining. If you’re using pork shoulder, try mashing up some of the pieces into shreds while the pasta is cooking.
When the pasta’s done, don’t rinse; add it back into the pot on a burner set to low heat. Dump in the barbecue sauce and meat, and stir well. If it starts to get dry, add some of the cooking water. Allow the mixture to heat through, stirring occasionally and adding more pasta water when necessary, until the pasta is al dente, just a few minutes.
Serve with optional salad.