You've probably seen the ads plugging pork as ". . . the other white meat," indicating that it has changed mightily and gained great respectability as a new, less fatty product that will fit nicely into the diet of anyone watching their cholesterol intake or counting calories. So is it really any better for you than it was 10 years ago?
In a word, yes. The pork industry has spent a goodly amount of time and money in not only restructuring the hog itself, but also in updating cooking methods to conform with the new end product. The fresh pork products found in today's meat counters are definitely different from those most of us were raised on. The meat is leaner and the trim is better; revisions that have taken place without removing the essential flavor of this popular meat.
But, and this is important to anyone who likes pork and serves it often, if you cook the modern pork using the old time and temperature guidelines, you undoubtedly will wind up with a dry, tasteless entree that strongly resembles shoe leather. Today's recommendations from the National Pork Producers Council are to cook pork roasts to an internal temperature of 160 degrees rather than the old 170 degrees. In fact, most current instructions actually recommend removing a pork roast from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees and letting it stand (covered lightly in a warm place) for about 10 to 15 minutes before carving. During the resting period, the roast will continue cooking on its own, and the internal temperature should rise the additional five degrees desired during this time.
With the lowering of the temperature requirements for pork, many cooks are concerned whether they might be risking trichinosis, an intestinal ailment caused by Trichinella spiralis, a parasite that may be present in 0.1% of the nation's fresh pork supply. According to Ann Rehnstrom of the NPPC's Consumer Products Marketing Department, there is no need to worry. The new cooking guidelines have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which in recognizing the changes last year, noted that T . spiralis is destroyed instantly at a temperature of 137 degrees, well below the new top temperature doneness recommendations.
Along with temperature and timing changes for cooking roasts, the industry also has come up with new suggestions for preparing smaller cuts of pork. Again, cooking times are briefer, a fact that will produce a juicier chop or cutlet, yet without fear of bacterial infection. The NPPC suggests cooking thin cutlets and chops (those cut about three-eighths of an inch thick) a total of 10 to 15 minutes. Thicker chops that are pan-fried or grilled should be properly done in 15 to 20 minutes. Do keep these guidelines in mind as you cook today's pork, or expect to have a dry, overcooked product.
Something else new in pork cookery that needs a comment is what's happening with the cutting methods used in producing boneless pork roasts. When a recipe calls for a rolled boneless roast for stuffing, you may have to have a butcher prepare the cut especially to your specifications. Most of the boneless roasts in the prepared meats counters these days turn out to be two large chunks of meat tied together. This not only makes it difficult to carve the roast attractively, it makes it all but impossible to stuff it effectively. So when buying a boneless pork roast, examine it carefully to be sure it really is a cut that will work in the recipe.
Some of the recipes that follow are good choices for those days when you have time to let them simmer or roast away for several hours. Polly's Peppered Pork Roast, for instance, is an entree that needs time to cook, but is delicious either hot or cold. Basted frequently with a spicy black pepper and vinegar sauce while it cooks, the roast develops a crisp, peppery crust that seals in the natural juices.
Be aware if you try this one that it's wise to scrape the crust off before taking a large bite. The crust will be almost solid black pepper and although it does impart a degree of spicy flavor throughout the meat, too big a bite can ruin your taste buds for hours. Of course, if you happen to be a person who truly likes very hot and peppery food, a bit of the crust with every bite will please you mightily. This recipe, incidentally, dates back to the '30s when a friend on a special low-fat, low-sodium diet gave it to my mother. It has withstood the trials of time and today is once again decidedly "in vogue."
Another good pork recipe that requires a slightly longer cooking time is one for country-style ribs. Browned quickly, the ribs, along with tiny new potatoes, are arranged over layers of onion and apple in a casserole-style main dish that is a meal in one. A cool, crisp green salad will round a menu out nicely.
A good quick pork meal for one of those nights when there literally is little time to cook can be based on the recipe for Pork Cutlets. Served with some parsleyed noodles and colorful mixed vegetables, both of which can cook while you're preparing the cutlets, you'll have a meal on the table in no time. And a good one, too.
The following recipes have all been adapted to the new shorter cooking times for fresh pork.
POLLY'S PEPPERED PORK ROAST
1 (3-pound) boneless pork loin roast
1 cup vinegar
1/4 pound margarine, melted
1 (1-ounce) can black pepper
Place pork loin roast in roasting pan. Combine vinegar, margarine and pepper for basting sauce. Roast pork loin at 400 degrees 1 hour, basting with sauce every 15 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees. Continue roasting pork loin 2 hours, basting with sauce every 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit 20 minutes before carving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Baste will form very spicy crust, which may have overpowering flavor and bite. If hot and spicy foods are not to your liking, simply scrape crust to one side. Only surface of meat will reflect heat of pepper.
3 pounds country-style pork ribs
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup oil
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 small red new potatoes
1/2 cup water
Season ribs with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge in flour. Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil in skillet. Brown half of ribs. Repeat procedure with remaining butter, oil and ribs. Reserve pan drippings.
Core and cut each apple into 8 wedges. Cut onion into julienne strips. Arrange apples, onion and garlic in bottom of 4-quart buttered casserole. Cut each potato in half and dip into 0reserved pan drippings. Arrange over apples. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Discard fat from pan drippings. Add water and stir to loosen any browned bits of meat. Pour over potatoes. Top with browned ribs. Cover and bake at 350 degrees 1 hour or until meat is tender. Makes 6 servings.
8 (1/4-inch thick) boneless pork cutlets
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon capers
6 lemon slices
3/4 cup whipping cream
Season pork cutlets with salt and pepper to taste. Dip each in eggs, coating on both sides. Saute in oil in skillet until golden brown.
Remove cutlets and keep warm. Drain excess oil from skillet, then add garlic and saute 1 to 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, capers and lemon slices. Simmer several minutes to blend flavors.
Remove lemon slices. Add cream and reduce sauce until slightly thickened. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Spoon sauce onto serving plates. Top each with 2 pork cutlets. Makes 4 servings.
STUFFED PORK CHOPS
6 (1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch thick) pork loin chops
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 tablespoon fresh minced sage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped jicama
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup vermicelli, broken into 2-inch lengths
1 1/2 cups rice
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
Cut deep pocket in meaty portion of pork parallel to flat surface of chop. Set aside.
Saute garlic, onion and sage in olive oil in skillet until onion is transparent. Combine in bowl with spinach, carrots, jicama and mushrooms. Stuff pork chops with mixture.
Heat vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons butter in skillet. Brown pork chops on both sides. Set aside.
Saute vermicelli in remaining 1/4 cup butter in Dutch oven until lightly browned. Stir in rice and chicken broth. Place stuffed pork chops on top of rice mixture. Cover and simmer about 45 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and chops are tender. Makes 6 servings.
EAST INDIAN PORK
2 pounds lean pork, sliced or cubed
1 cup onion slices
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground coriander, optional
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup rice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 medium bananas, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/2 to 3/4 cup canned, drained, light sweet cherries
Brown pork and onions in oil in Dutch oven. Remove with slotted spoon. Pour off any drippings. Return pork and onions to pan and add 1 cup orange juice, sugar, coriander, curry powder, ginger, cloves and lemon juice. Cover and simmer 40 to 45 minutes or until pork is tender. Season to taste with salt.
Prepare rice according to package directions, substituting orange juice for all or part of water.
Blend 1 cup orange juice with cornstarch, then add to pork and cook until thickened, stirring frequently. Add banana slices and cherries. Serve pork mixture over rice. Makes 6 servings.
2 (2-pound) pork tenderloins
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 cups hot cooked rice
Saute tenderloins in butter until golden. Remove from pan and set aside. Saute onion and pepper in remaining butter until onion is tender.
Return meat to pan. Add wine, juice from 2 oranges, sugar, bay leaf and parsley. Cover and simmer about 45 minutes or until meat is tender. Season to taste with salt.
Peel remaining orange and section. Cut peel into very thin strips and boil in small amount water until tender.
Remove meat from pan. Drain and reserve orange peel. Combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water and add to pan liquid, stirring until thickened and smooth.
Place hot rice on platter. Cut tenderloin into thick slices and arrange over rice. Pour sauce over meat and garnish with orange sections and peel. Makes 6 servings.
1 boneless pork butt, about 3 pounds
1/2 cup Mexican hot sauce or taco sauce
1/2 cup catsup
1/4 cup raisins
1 (1-ounce) square unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup slivered almonds
Untie roast if bound with string. Trim off excess fat. Cut lengthwise into 2 to 3 (2-inch-thick) strips, holding knife at angle and cutting diagonally through roast. Place in rectangular dish.
Combine hot sauce, catsup, 1/4 cup oil, raisins, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, garlic and 1/4 cup almonds in blender and puree. Pour mole sauce over meat, turning to coat all sides. Marinate at least 2 hours, or longer if possible.
Roast, uncovered, at 325 degrees 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until thermometer registers 160 degrees.
Saute remaining 1/2 cup almonds in oiled pan until lightly roasted. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Slice meat and top with almonds. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
STIR-FRIED PORK IN NOODLE NESTS
1 pound lean boneless pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Dash black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2-inch piece ginger root, thinly sliced
1/2 cup salted peanuts
1 (5-ounce) can sliced bamboo shoots, drained
1 small sweet red pepper, cut into strips
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine
Coat pork with mixture of rice wine vinegar, pepper and cornstarch. Heat about 1/2 cup oil in wok or large skillet and stir-fry ginger. Add pork, cooking small batch at time, then remove from wok.
Add about 1 teaspoon oil to wok and quickly stir-fry peanuts, bamboo shoots and sweet red pepper. Combine soy sauce, water, sugar and rice wine. Return pork to wok and stir in soy sauce mixture. Cook until blended. Season to taste with salt. Serve with Noodle Nests. Makes 6 servings.
3/4 cup egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 (5 1/2-ounce) can Chinese chow mein noodles
Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff but not dry. Gently fold in noodles. On well-greased baking sheet, drop noodle mixture, using about 2/3 cup for each nest. With back of spoon, shape into nests.
Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes or until browned. Makes 6 nests.
JOSEPH FEINSTEIN'S CHINESE PORK
3 pounds boneless pork loin
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Sherry
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 green onion, quartered
Cut pork loin into 8-inch-long strips about 2 inches thick and place in rectangular dish. Combine sugar, Sherry, ginger, garlic powder to taste, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and green onion. Pour over meat and marinate 8 hours, turning meat frequently.
Attach strips to highest oven rack with curtain hooks or paper clips. Place pan to catch drippings on lowest rack. Beginning with cold oven, turn temperature to 425 degrees. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake additional 35 minutes.
Cut strips into diagonal slices to serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.