If You Believe in Cut-It-Yourself, There Are Still Bargains in Pork

There doesn't seem to be too much confusion in the meat case when it comes to the labeling of pork products--yet. Not nearly as much confusion as there is with the labeling of beef cuts. The same cut of beef may be (and often is) called by a dozen different names in as many different parts of the country, but a pork chop is a pork chop.

There is a growing trend in the pork industry toward marketing pork in boneless cuts. And for some reason, whenever the bone comes out, some fancy, and for the most part meaningless and confusing label goes on. What used to be a pork loin, for example, becomes a "top loin" and a "tenderloin," which is then cut in a variety of ways to become "boneless pork chops," "pork cutlets," "pork fillets," "pork scaloppine," "pork tenderloin kebabs," and so on.

Along with the plethora of pork terminology comes the seemingly inevitable price gouging that accompanies it. When a butcher cuts a piece of boneless top loin of pork into thin slices and labels them, "pork tenderloin cutlets," he somehow feels justified in charging a premium for them. The same cut, butterflied and labeled "pork scaloppine," may cost even more.

Boneless pork offers a marvelous opportunity for saving money, as well as providing relatively inexpensive eating for anyone willing to do a little cutting in the kitchen. In many markets boneless cuts of pork are being offered for sale still wrapped in their vacuum-sealed plastic packages at a very reasonable price--far cheaper than the fancy "thick" or "thin," "butterflied" or "pocketed" cuts the butcher makes from them. It is a simple matter to cut them up yourself--as thick or as thin as you like--and provide not only some very good meals but some substantial savings on your meat bill.

The two cuts that I see most often in whole boneless form are the top loin of pork and pork tenderloins. Both are as easy to cut up as a loaf of French bread. And there are dozens of things that can be done with the meat.

The tenderloin is the tenderest cut of the pig. It is to pork what filet mignon is to beef. It may be sliced thin for stir-fry, cut a little thicker, flattened and fried for a classic "Mama-food" meal with mashed potatoes and gravy. It also is the perfect part to cut into cubes for kebabs. No matter how you cut it, you'll save money if you buy the boneless cut and cut it yourself.

The top loin of pork often is an even better bargain. It's somewhat less tender than the tenderloin, and quite a bit larger--a whole boneless top loin usually will run about six to eight pounds. It ranks as the second most tender part of the pig and is perfect for all kinds of pork dishes, from scaloppine to thick-stuffed chops or stuffed loin roasts. When you find a pork top loin at a good price, don't hesitate--buy it.

It's a simple matter to cut a top loin of pork into slices for chops, cutlets or whatever. You can also make an absolutely elegant rolled stuffed loin roast.

Put the boneless pork loin fat side down on your cutting board. Using a long-bladed knife, cut through the meat from one side to within about half an inch of the other. Start your cut about half an inch up from the cutting board, so that when you've made the first cut you can open the piece like a book. The bottom part should be about a half-inch thick. The top part will be about twice that thickness.

Make a second cut starting where the two are hinged. Cut through the top part, dividing that into two half-inch-thick "pages." Be careful not to cut all the way through, but leave a half-inch "hinge" so that you can unroll the whole piece and spread it out flat, giving you a slab of pork loin about half an inch thick and about three times as wide as the original piece.

Flatten the meat slightly with a mallet and spread on a layer of your favorite stuffing. It could be vegetable stuffing made of julienne strips of carrots, turnips and bell pepper, perhaps mixed with some peas or corn. Dried fruit soaked overnight in brandy makes a nice simple stuffing--use your imagination. Then roll and tie with string.

Roast in a 350-degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours to an internal temperature of 165 to 170 degrees. Let stand for a few minutes, slice and serve. An appropriate sauce or gravy made from the pan drippings is all you need to finish.

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