PORK today is younger, leaner, and more tender than ever before. It not only has less fat, but it takes less cooking time. ``A whole tenderloin can be roasted in 25 minutes, saut'eed in eight minutes, and sliced for stir-fry in 10 minutes,'' reports Merle Ellis, a butcher and syndicated newspaper columnist who writes on meat selection and cooking.
One of the country's top authorities on meat, Mr. Ellis says most consumers have noticed the improvement in pork products over the past few years:
``People know that the boneless pork gives you very little waste and hardly any fat. So you're really saving money, especially when you figure a cost-per-serving basis.
``But there's a very wide variety of fresh pork cuts today. The advantage is that there are so many easy recipes that need only about 30 minutes to cook. This is a new way to think about pork, which makes it ideal for busy people.''
Boneless cuts provide three to four 3-ounce servings per pound. Cuts with some bone provide two to three servings. A large amount of bone will give you one to 1 servings per pound.
``The boneless cuts may appear to be more expensive, yet they give you more edible meat than most other cuts and have less waste,'' Ellis explains.
The boneless meat is easy to handle. It comes in strips for stir-fry, medallions, or cutlets for a quick saut'e, and cubes for a grilled kabob or for speedy braising.
Pork is excellent, too, for the familiar classic dishes that call for other white meats, such as chicken and veal. One classic veal dish that can now be made with pork is Pork Tonnato, similar to the sliced veal dish. With a sauce of tuna fish, mayonnaise, and capers, it's superb.
Pork V'eronique, made with tenderloin slices, a white sauce, and grapes, is an elegant company dish. Another family favorite that can be made with pork is Pork Tenderloin Stroganoff.
``Because they are so very lean, do not overcook these new pork cuts,'' says Ellis. ``For fork-tender, juicy pork, treat it gently. Quickly grill, saut'e, or stir-fry it - or roast just to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.''
Many stores feature large cuts of meats in ``family packs,'' but these are by no means exclusive to families. By freezing individual pieces, one- or two-person households can just as easily take advantage of the pack.
At a supermarket in Maine recently, the customer in line behind me had two large pork crown roasts in her shopping cart. She told me the market butcher had trimmed and tied them in the classic crown shape, just the way she'd ordered them.
He had also stuffed the center of the two roasts with a packaged stuffing. But in chatting we both admitted this roast would be equally festive for an elegant party with a wild rice stuffing.
``Consumers should judge pork's quality by the appearance,'' says Ellis. ``The color of high-quality pork ranges from pink to delicate rose. It should have a firm, fine texture.
``On certain bone-in cuts, the fat on the outside, sometimes called the `fat cover,' should be firm and white. This fat cover should be carefully trimmed before cooking to maximize the pork's excellent food value.''
Ellis is nationally known on television through his own series, ``The Butcher'' and ``Cookin' 'Round the Country'' - as well as from national television appearances. His career as a butcher started at age 13 in his father's meat market in Sioux City, Iowa. His book is ``Cutting Up in the Kitchen.''
Pork Tenderloin Diane 1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into eight crosswise pieces 2 teaspoons lemon pepper 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard 1 tablespoon minced parsley or chives
Press each tenderloin slice to a 1-inch thickness. Sprinkle surfaces of medallions with lemon pepper. Heat butter in heavy skillet. Cook tenderloin medallions 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove medallions to serving platter; keep warm. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard to skillet. Cook, stirring with pan juices, until heated through. Pour sauce over medallions, sprinkle with parsley, and serve. For four people. Marinated Pork Salad 3 ounces leftover pork roast, in 1/2-inch strips 2 teaspoons bottled Italian or herb dressing 1 cup washed, torn romaine lettuce 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Few drops Tabasco sauce 1/4 cup croutons Freshly ground pepper
Marinate pork in salad dressing at least 1 hour, turning once or twice. Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Toss pork, romaine, croutons, and freshly ground pepper together. Top with mayonnaise dressing. Serves one.
Honey-Mustard Tenderloin 1 whole pork tenderloin, about one pound 4 tablespoons honey 2 tablespoons cider vinegar 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard 1/2 teaspoon paprika
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine remaining ingredients thoroughly. Coat tenderloin well with sauce. Roast at 375 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally, until meat thermometer registers 160 degrees F. Slice thinly to serve.