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Putting Pork on Everyone's ForkPutting Pork on Everyone's Fork

August 1, 2000

7 Min Read
Putting Pork on Everyone's Fork

August 2000
Culinary Connection Putting Pork on Everyone's Fork
By Andre D. Halston   Let me begin by telling you a little known fact... The pig is the only animal where literally every part is eaten from bacon and pork chops to less universally eaten delicacies such as pigs blood pudding and pickled pigs feet. Theres a great amount of versatility in the way this meat is cut and prepared, and its very effective in maintaining overall food costs. Additionally, the pork industry has been concentrating on meeting chefs needs and demands in recent years. The growing varieties of available pork cuts are value-added and offer operators quality products without the associated labor issues. The numerous cuts, including tenderloin, shoulder, ribs and chops, also make it easy for chefs to add a new pork item to their menu. Leg of pork is an excellent example of a cut that innovative chefs are utilizing because it looks and slices like leg of lamb and menus like beef steamship round. Ham it up There are several traditional pork dishes with which most of us are familiar, including broiled or breaded pork chops and barbecued ribs. But there are others that, although less common, still appeal to those in search of comfortable traditional fare. Pulled pork is one easy-to-handle option that has great flavor. A chef can take the boneless shoulder or the inside round, put some bouillon in the bottom of the pan and roast the meat. This technique results in a product that is almost steamed. Its cooked for so long, it literally falls apart. After cooling to temperature where the meat can be handled, shred it by hand. Adding barbecue sauce will turn it into a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich, a popular item in many parts of the country. Another popular traditional menu item, and one that Ive treasured since childhood, is bean and bacon soup. Smoked-pork shank goes into the base of the stock along with a very good flavored bacon. Although I add big white beans and other traditional components, its the smoked-pork shank in the base of the stock that makes the dish what it is. Global pork The rise in popularity of international dishes also means the increased use of pork as a menu item. Certain ethnic cuisines rely on pork as a staple meat. Many of these dishes evolve as they travel around the globe, often taking on regional characteristics. Certain regions of France are especially famous for pork cookery a culinary art form called charcuteri, where pork is used to make terrines, pâtés, galantines, and sausages, both hot and cold. These items, often a fixture at brunches in the United States, have great eye-appeal with all the different moulds that can be used and topped with sauces ranging from spicy mustards to the creamy variety. In Asian cuisine, pork stir-fry is an essential item that has been part of that menu for years. Its a basic recipe containing Chinese five-spice, a little bit of sesame oil, chilled rice, scallions, celery and pork, and sometimes it has a bit of ginger in it. Its not a complicated dish, but it gives great flavor. The preparation of pork-based sausage also encounters a high degree of cultural diversity. On the Italian side, sausage is done in several different fashions based on the region. Sicilians, for instance, tend to add a little more pepper to it, whereas other regions prefer less heat. Fennel and basil, spices characteristically associated with Italian cuisine, add a sweet component. Italian sausages are packed into casings of different sizes, and left to sit for weeks or months until they develop a great natural flavor. Chorizo, the Spanish version of sausage, is made with garlic, chiles and paprika. Linguiça has a Portuguese and Brazilian flair; its ground pork is heavily laden with garlic. The Germans prepare their sausages in beer. The hops from the beer give the sausage both a sweetness and bitterness. As these examples demonstrate, pork sausage is a product thats readily available throughout the world. Keep it simple Pork can also work in fusion cuisines. It is a good idea to use no more than two or three dominant flavors on a plate. Dont try and make "fusion/confusion" food instead, keep it simple and natural. Layering flavor upon flavor causes both plate and palate confusion. Applying this philosophy to pork, a dish I like to prepare is pork tenderloin wrapped in chorizo, accompanied by an Oriental stir-fry. Look at the variety of flavor profiles that gives: the stir-fry has the soy, the pork tenderloin has great natural meat flavor, and the chorizo lends a bold, dominant flavor with the garlic and spices that go into it. Carving out a niche Consistency, quality and versatility are important when considering a menu. Pork can address all three of these issues. Have a menu with a set number of fixed items, and then introduce features as a teaser with hopes of building your menu in the future. A good way to see if an item has the potential to become a permanent menu addition is to run it, take it off the menu, try some new ideas, then run it again to see if it is still a hit. This works particularly well with unusual dishes, or items traditionally made with other types of meat. To get creative with pork, sometimes its just a matter of changing paradigms, or peoples way of thinking. While most people are accustomed to burgers made from beef or turkey, one made from pork is a rare find. A great burger can be made from ground pork, garlic, chile powder, cayenne, red and yellow peppers, sour cream and onion potato chips, capers and a little bit of Dijon mustard. The ground-up sour cream and onion chips act as a binder, and add flavor as well. Many doors have recently opened up in the pork realm, mainly because of consumer education, from television as well as print media. People are more educated than ever before and understand some of the terms, some of the cuts, and how they can be cooked. As a result, the pork paradigm is shifting, leaving room for many new, innovative product adaptations. Going hog wild New product development doesnt always meet with success. After all, theres no point in creating something if theres no demand for it. Scientists who work with corporate chefs, often have an edge over those who merely create without using research to support their ideas. With the rise in popularity of ready-to-cook entrees, there is room for porks versatility. A couple items I would consider incorporating into a ready-to-cook menu include pork burgers and pork fingers. A pork burger with the right moisture content and make-up could be made up in a mini form, served in multiples of three or four with some chunky applesauce and a complementary vegetable. Pork fingers, that have been properly marinated for added moisture and flavor retention, make an appealing menu alternative to the ubiquitous chicken variety for children. When developing pork dishes, keep in mind flavors and side items that blend well with the natural flavor of the meat. Dried cherries and cherry purees work well with pork, as does jalapeño, which gives a yin and yang flavor. Applesauce is a natural complement, as is barbecue sauce. When roasting, different kinds of rubs, like poultry seasoning, work well. Complementary flavors, like sage and applesauce, can also be combined. When it comes to pork, there are three things to keep in mind. First, versatility is key. Second, develop quality menu items with bold, dominant flavors. And finally, realize that consumers are well-educated and demanding, yet often are ready to experiment with new cuts and flavor preparations.

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