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pork for a first-timer

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My mum grew up in a somewhat observant Jewish home, so she never was familiar with pork, and although her own home was observant to only the laws of Taste and Gluttony, she never learned how (or showed much interest in it) beyond prosciutto and bacon.

Living by myself, culinary curiosity makes me want to learn how to cook, eat and enjoy pork. So does anyone have any tips, suggestions or recipes for a first timer?

I usually prefer fresher preparation of meat (sauted, lightly braised, grilled), rather than stews, and I do not like the taste or texture of fat (always cut the rinds off the bacon!) - although maybe crackling is the sort of thing every good cook should know how to do (for fat guzzling boyfriends, for example).

So where should I start?

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  1. Start by keeping in mind that for the past several decades, the fat has been bred out of pigs. Accordingly, the meat today, generally speaking, is very lean, which means that pork can eaily be overcooked to a leathery dryness. So, whatever you pork recipe you cook, keep this in mind.

    On the recipe side, one of my favorite, very simple things to do with pork is a sandwich as follows:

    Slice onion and saute it or caramelize it.

    Pan sear and cook a boneless pork chop, seasoned with salt and pepper. While its cooking in the pan, drizzle some pulpy orange juice on it, which caramelizes nicely. Before the pork is done (which is a light pink), take it off the heat, tent it with tin foil and let it sit for about ten minutes.

    Then slice the pork, and place slices on a crusty roll or baguette, cover pork with the caramelized onions, feta cheese and basil, drizzle it with olive oil.

    2 Replies
    1. re: EF

      Well, having been a home cook for more years than I want to admit, pork has changed a lot since I began cooking. If your going to cook chops, brine them. There are many good brine recipes, simple but they do take some just sitting in frig time. Do brine, however or you'll end up with meat tough as leather. My fav. is to brine and then grill. As far as a roast goes, just use a really good cut, then put slivers of garlic, plenty of fresh herbs, salt and pepper on the roast and don't overcook. The easiest pork to do is pork tenderloin. It stays tender and moist and has many, many uses and recipes. However you decide to cook pork, or whatever cut you use (except maybe ribs) do not overcook. Enjoy learning about this meat, there are a lot of us outthere who think it's the King of meats!

      1. re: jackie

        If you have not cooked pork before, you might want to use a meat thermometer to make sure you don't overcook it. Many older cookbooks say to cook pork until it reaches 160 degress, but if you do that it will not be moist. Trichinella spiralis (the organism that causes trichinosis) and other harmful organisms die at 137 degrees -- pork is safe to eat at that internal temperature. I cook pork to 145 degrees just to be safe.

        Brining does help too, although I've found if you use too much sugar in the brine it will taste like ham. I use a light brine with just under 1/4 cup of salt and sugar per gallon of water, plus spices (juniper berries, thyme, chili flakes, bay leaves, peppercorns). For chops I think a few hours is sufficient, although with a pork loin it can take a couple days.

        Also, not all pork chops are the same. Pork loin chops are very tender, as are pork rib chops. Pork sirloin chops and cutlets look very lean but I think they can get very dry.

    2. Boneless pork loin or bone-in chop is always a favorite but for most cooks, brining is needed to retain succulence.

      My easy recipe is to use steaks cut from the butt. Definitely more fat from intramuscular marbling, but if you're grilling, pan frying, or broiling, the fat will keep the meat juicy and render out. Now the key is the marinade - Dijon mustard, crushed garlic, olive oil, and salt&pepper. Rosemary is an excellent addition as well. Simple and you have a bit more leeway when it comes to overcooking.

      1. Kate, Attracting men is not difficult, to keep one, use this recipe: 1 Boneless pork butt roast, 3 cloves of garlic peeled and cut lengthwise in 4 pieces each,, 3 jalapeno peppers (don't skip this or bad relationship luck will occur) seeded and cut into 1" length, 3-4 green onions cut in 1" lengths. Buy a package of the bake-in-a-bag product normally reserved for turkeys. Follow the bag direction (add flower, poke holes, etc.) Cut 8-10 slits in the pork roast, in each slit at a piece of garlic, pepper and onion. Add a little wine for liquid to the bag (this will make great gravy later) and roast about 1.5--2 hours at 325 degrees. Normally I would say it's cheating to use a cooking bag. And normally I would say this recipe is too simple to be good. I would be wrong on both counts. This will be one of the simplist, best meals you've ever had. Clean up is a snap and there won't be any leftovers. Enjoy with a nice Pinot Noir because, as we all now know, merlot is dreck.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Leper

          Bake in the bag? Could I imitate this by just tenting with tin foil? Where do the flour and holes go? I'm afraid I've never cooked with this technology!
          I don't think you can buy them here in Italy, either. Relationship advice in the form of food is of course always welcomed from the kind folk at chowhound...

        2. My wife and I have been rediscovering tenderloins. From fried to roasted to stuffed.

          The link below is a great general guide to stuffed loins. Incredibly lean, and if you follow the guidelines, you can take the tastes where you want to go.

          Link: http://www.poubelle.com/butterpig/arc...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Dennis S

            Totally agree that pork tenderloin is the way to go for novices (and more experienced cooks, too). Probably my favorite cut of pork aside from thick-cut pork chops.

            I like tenderloin b/c it's lean yet flavorful (no brining necessary) and can be stuffed or left unstuffed. For stuffed, I like a mix of dried apricots, prunes, fresh thyme. One can buy a relatively small cut so that a tenderloin can feed two for dinner, while any leftovers can be sliced for sandwiches.

            My easiest preparation: Truss loin if necessary so that it becomes a log of even thickness (usually need to fold tapered end back onto itself); I usually just secure flap w/ 1-2 toothpicks instead of twine. S&P entire surface well. Preheat oven to 400F. In ovenproof skillet on high heat, sear meat in oil (I use canola for this) til all sides are encrusted w/ a deep brown coating. Immed. move to oven to finish cooking uncovered. Start checking internal temp. after about 10 min. For slightly rosy, take out when thermometer inserted into middle reads 150F; 155-160F for more doneness. Move loin to cutting board to rest for at least 15 min.

            For simple pan gravy: deglaze pan w/ dry sherry. Add thyme and adjust seasoning if necessary. Finish w/ knob of butter. I like to serve w/ mashed potatoes and green beans.