Sunday, September 1, 2019

D.C. Pulled Pork with D.C. Mambo BBQ Sauce

When it comes to food, sauces often become symbols of cities or even entire regions.  Think of Alabama White Sauce, the thin white velvety sauce that slowly drips off of a whole smoked chicken.  There is the East Carolina Vinegar Sauce, a somewhat transparent sauce that slightly glazes the pulled or chopped pork but makes its presence known with a stiff kick from the vinegar and peppers.  And there is the Kansas City Barbecue Sauce, with its thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce that and the list can go on.

All of those sauces are traditionally used in barbecue, to provide additional levels of flavor to the smoked meat.  I have spent a lot of time reading and learning about barbecue sauces and, during this effort, I discovered that Washington, D.C. has its own iconic sauce.

It is the Mambo Sauce.  And, it has quite the history ...

That history begins in Indianola, Mississippi.  Argia B. Collins Sr. was born there but emigrated north as part of the post World War II migration in the United States.  Collins made his way to Chicago, where he opened a barbecue joint, Argia B's BBQ, on the south side at Forestville and 47th Street.  At that BBQ joint, Collins created what he called "Mumbo Sauce," a mild barbecue sauce.  He drenched everything he sold -- hot links, fried chicken, fried shrimp, fried fish -- in his Mumbo Sauce.  Eventually, Argia B. Collins Sr. trademarked his sauce in 1957 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Collins' sauce, as well his food, became very popular, with Argia opening a total of ten store fronts.  Other restaurants on the south side of Chicago, especially those serving barbecue and fried chicken began making a mild sauce similar to Mumbo Sauce.

There is a separate claim to Mumbo Sauce, which was made by Charlene Archie. She claims that the sauce originated in Washington, D.C. with a restaurant called Wings N Things, which was located at the intersection of 7th Street, NW and Florida Avenue, NW, near Howard University.  Wings N Things operated from 1962 to 1978. While the restaurant eventually closed, the sauce lived on.  Soon it found its way to menus throughout the District.  One could find Mumbo Sauce being used by Chinese and Korean restaurants, as well as served with fried chicken. 

Eventually, D.C.'s Mumbo Sauce would be bottled and sold in stores by Capital City Mumbo Sauce; and, that is when the story takes a turn.  Argia B's BBQ learned about the D.C. version of Mumbo Sauce and then sued Capital City in court.  The principal allegation was that the use of the term "Mumbo Sauce" violated the trademark obtained by Argia B. Collins, Sr.   Capital City fought back and the case was ultimately decided in 2013, when a court ruled in favor of Argia B's BBQ.  As a result, at least in D.C., Mumbo Sauce became Mambo Sauce. 

Mambo Sauce combines the taste elements of sweet and sour, spice and salt; and, it does so in a very balanced way. How that balance is achieved has been the subject of much debate.  As one writer observed, "get five people into the room and you'll get six recipes for mambo sauce."  Nevertheless, there are some commonalities among the various recipes.  The sweetness comes from ketchup (or tomato paste).  The sour or tartness comes from vinegar.  The salt comes from soy sauce.  The spice comes from hot sauce.   With this in mind, I turned to my cooking.

The recipe that I used contains these four ingredients (tomato paste, vinegar, soy sauce and hot sauce), as well as a couple of other ingredients that find their way onto most mambo sauce recipes. While I could have incorporated the sauce into a range of dishes that I make (as I have made Chinese and Korean dishes), I decided to use it in the traditional way ... with barbecue. I smoked a Boston butt and mixed in the sauce after pulling the pork.  While I am a big fan of spicier sauces, I have to say that I was truly impressed with how a very basic and mild sauce can still shine and be the star of the dish.   

Rub recipe from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible
Sauce recipe from American Food Roots
Serves many

Ingredients (for the pork):
1 Boston Butt pork shoulder
Chunks of apple wood

Ingredients (for the rub):
1 cup sea salt (or kosher salt)
1 cup brown or white sugar
1 cup sweet paprika
1/2 to 1 cup coarsely ground or cracked black peppercorns
3 tablespoons granulated garlic powder
3 tablespoons granulated onion powder
1 tablespoon celery seed

Ingredients (for the BBQ Sauce):
1/2 cup of tomato paste or ketchup
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup of pineapple juice
1 cup of sugar
4 teaspoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1.5 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce

1.  Marinate the pork butt. Combine all of the ingredients for the rub. Season the pork shoulder on all sides with the rub, massaging the rub into the meat.

2.  Prepare the smoker or the grill.   Set up the smoker or grill for indirect grilling and get a fire going.  Preheat the smoker or the grill to about 250 degrees.

3.  Smoke the pork butt.  Place the pork but, fat side up in the middle of the grate over a drip pan.  Toss a handful of soaked wood chips (soaked for about an hour) on the charcoals.  Cover and smoke the shoulder until it is the color of mahogany, about 7 to 9 hours.  The internal temperature should be about 195 degrees.  This will require the addition of fresh charcoal every so often,

4.  Make the Mambo Sauce.  In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine all of the ingredients for the sauce.  Simmer, but do not boil, for about 20 minutes to marry the flavors and thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust to your preferences.

5.  Finish the dish.  Once the pork butt reaches the temperature goal, pull the pork out  and let it rest for about 15 minutes.  Pull the pork and then mix in some of the Mambo sauce.  Serve immediately with a side of Mambo sauce.


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