Pork Tries for a Lean, Mean Comeback
Delicately sweet in flavor, the `other white meat' isn't married to applesauce
DOGS may get top billing as man's best friend, but maybe it's time we considered the pig. Porkers may be a little slow at fetching your newspaper and slippers, but when it comes to putting food on the table, they don't just bring home the bacon, they ``are'' the bacon!Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Pork, promoted by the porcine-pushers as the ``other'' white meat, has been with us for millennia.
The Chinese are credited with domesticating the pig some 7,000 years ago and have left us the oldest know pork recipe - a suckling pig stuffed with dates, not unlike the way suckling pig is often served today. An early emperor of China even ordered his subjects to raise hogs. The Chinese were so devoted to their hogs that they were sometimes buried with their herd to ensure they would be with them in the afterlife. One need not go to such extremes today to enjoy pork.
Easily fed and housed, and very prolific (a sow can have two litters of a dozen piglets each a year), pigs have been the staple diet of peasants as well as potentates around the globe. Even today, a family of pigs is commonly seen trotting along with the dogs and chickens throughout rural villages in temperate and tropical countries.
From China to the West Indies, to Africa to the South Pacific, where beef may be rare and expensive, pigs abound. Only where pork is not eaten for religious reasons does it vanish.
Almost every part of the pig makes it to the table; from the costly tenderloin to the intestines (as sausage casings and chitterlings) to their little pointy feet. Even the salted tails are added to flavor such West Indian treats as ``pigeon, peas, and rice.''
The delicate sweetness of the meat is a perfect foil for fruit as well. Americans are familiar with the traditional pork chops and applesauce, and a loin of pork stuffed with prunes is a Scandinavian favorite. I recently made this dish using those new prunes on the market that are infused with lemon and orange with delicious results.
Unfortunately pork, and especially pork chops, are often served dry, tough, and tasteless. This is due, I suspect, to two things: health concerns about undercooked pork and the mistake of buying chops that are too thin.
A proper chop should be at least 3/4-of- an-inch thick. Pork authorities suggest you err on the safe side and cook it to 155 degrees F. If you don't own a meat thermometer, the meat is fully cooked when the juices run clear, with no trace of pinkness, when skewered.
Robin Kline, director of the Pork Information Bureau for the National Pork Producers Council suggests, ``Let your culinary imagination run wild with pork chops; just don't overcook.''
Remember, lean pork cooks very quickly, so test chops for doneness early. Ms. Kline also suggest buying boneless pork chops for added economy. They cost more per pound, but are cheaper in the long run.
The following prize-winning recipe brings out the versatility of pork. Not only does it contain fruit (pears in this case), but a sprinkling of blue cheese and a snappy taste of green peppercorns. I recently tested it using red Bartlett pears for added color; served with Brussels sprouts and wild rice. PORK CHOPS WITH PEARS, BLUE CHEESE, AND GREEN PEPPERCORNS
4 boneless pork chops, 3/4-inch thick
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 firm, ripe pears
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon crushed green peppercorns
1/4 cup blue cheese
Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Brush chops lightly with vegetable oil; season with salt and pepper. Cook chops, turning occasionally, until evenly browned and just done. Remove to warm platter.