4 Quick Creative Ideas For Pork

There are many cuts of pork: bone-in, center-cut loins, fresh legs, and let’s not forget the juicy flavor of a boneless center-cut loin roasted to perfection. All time-honored, center-of-the-plate traditions.

But in the third part of their Pork Culinary Training Series, Chef magazine set out to examine pork from a whole new angle. They wondered: What about the short cuts, so to speak? What kind of tempting recipes could chefs come up with using convenience pork products? We also wanted to stretch the uses of pork beyond the traditional entree.

A purist will say that pork needs to be slow-roasted to bring out its delectable flavor. But a realist might suggest that there is a huge selection of pork products on the market today with that convenience built in plus more.

Many value-added pork products come pre-cooked, pre-seasoned, and even pre-sliced and pre-skewered. And they can save the day for busy people that can’t invest the time and labor to prepare pork recipes from scratch.

Being a realist about it all, they set out to find inventive uses for these convenience pork products, and turned to Michael Foley, chef/owner of Printer’s Row in Chicago, for inspiration.

Foley, one of the National Pork Producers Council’s Celebrated Chefs for 1998-99, was a natural for the challenge. They asked him to create four dishes:

  • a soup,
  • an appetizer,
  • a salad,
  • and a sandwich,

each using a different convenience pork item.

The chef confirmed our instinct about today’s value-added pork.

“Prepped, trimmed and ready to go, these products can shave hours off preparation and cooking time,” Foley says. “On the roasted items, you may pay a little more for the cut, but you don’t have to deal with waste, and you only have to make one or two passes with your knife, so you’re saving on labor costs.”

Foley was impressed with the range of ethnic dishes he could create by just tweaking the spices and herbs. “Whenever we work with pork, we always put it into some kind of dry rub or dry marinade or dry flavoring, and we find it versatile for all kinds of ethnic cooking,” he says.

Foley created four pork dishes incorporating flavors from around the world: tortilla soup from Mexico, Asian moray, a salad With the flavors of Spain, and a pulled-pork sandwich—which draws on an American classic, Southern-style barbecue.

Foley came up with so many ideas for using the products that we can’t list them all here. But we’ve included a few of these brainstorms, too.

1) SANDWICH – Pulled Pork on Sweet- Potato Biscuit Bread

“Pulled pork is going to take you a good two hours to slow cook, and sometimes up to six hours,” observes Foley. But not in this case. In creating this sophisticated twist on a Southern barbecue sandwich, the chef merely had to thaw and reheat the meat.

“This is a great product because it comes to you cooked. And you can use any one of thousands of condiments out there to flavor it. All the ethnic condiments that are out there, from the Chinese barbecue rubs to the Cajun flavors, all the mustards, all the relishes, says the chef.

For his creation, Foley paired the pork with a sweet-potato bread, layering it on shredded cabbage. “If the pulled pork is of the drier style, a little mustard and papaya blended together is an excellent condiment,” he suggests.

On the side, he served a simple cole slaw of shredded carrot, red onion, red cabbage and arugula.

2) SALAD – Cumin-Crusted Pork with Cilantro Gazpacho Marinade

For this dish, Foley worked with a pre-seasoned, marinated pork roast that, when oven-roasted, resembles rotisserie-cooked meat.

When the chef received the pork, it weighed in at several pounds, so he cut it down into three smaller roasts, each measuring about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. “We don’t make roasts too big. That way they cook consistently,” says Foley.

The chef offers this general hint for working with pork: “Remember, a pork roast will rise in temperature 5’F to 7’F after cooking. So never cook it too high. You don’t want the meat to be dry.” Foley suggests a cooking temperature of 155’F to 157’F, so he removes the meat from the oven when his meat thermometer reaches 150’F.

After seasoning the pork with cumin and roasting it, the chef thinly sliced the meat and arranged it atop a colorful relish of cucumbers and peppers, laced with cilantro and parsley. As a final touch around the rim of the plate, Foley drizzled drops of two sauces, one made, with cucumber, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and lime; the other a blend of cumin and curry oil. Two chives are delicately balanced on top.

3) SOUP – Tortilla Soup with Pork Rib Tips

Foley selected pre-cooked, pre-smoked rib tips to make this savory soup, a recipe he adapted from Rick Bayless’s book, Authentic Mexican Cuisine. The pork was already seasoned with salt, sugar, chili pepper, paprika, garlic and other spices. When the chef was done, the colorful and flavorful soup swirling around the pork tips looks every bit as authentic as some you’d find in the heart of Mexico.

“I found the pork tip very exciting to work with,” says Foley, adding that he liked the product’s flexibility. A tip from the chef: “You have to cook pork very slowly or you’ll dry it out. It’s like working with a short rib, even though it’s pre-cooked. You can’t boil it away the flavor.” In this case, Foley created a soup base of garlic, onions, tomatoes, and stock, added the pork tips, and slowly simmered for about 20 minutes.

“You’re saving at least an hour of braising time by using the convenience product,” he notes.

To finish, Foley ladled the steaming creation into a bowl, garnished the soup with silvered tortillas chips and sprinkled queso fresco on top. On the side, he added dried pasilla chilies and lime slices.

For an authentic flavor, Foley says, follow the Mexican tradition of cooking with the lard. Bear in mind that it has less cholesterol than margarine or butter, so don’t be afraid to use it because it gives the soup a nice, nutty favor.

4) APPETIZER – Pork Satays

The beauty of pork satay is its ethnic flair and its adaptability to myriad seasonings. And it’s fun finger food. The downside: the time involved in cutting the meat and threading it onto skewers.

Enter pre-cut, pre-skewered pork. In our test, we used a product made from trimmed pork that’s already assembled; all the chef has to do is cook and serve. Each satay grills in just a few minutes. Foley left some of the pork skewered as he received it, but he couldn’t resist some dabbling. In some cases, he added shrimp and pineapple to the skewers with cinnamon sticks.

“To show its versatility in spicing and herbing and in pairing, we took half of the pork paired it with shrimp,” says Foley. ” We ground some of it, flavored it and rolled it around a skewer with a lettuce leaf. We marinated some in mushroom soy. We marinated some in curry. And we added vegetables to some.” For the final presentation, the chef lined up blanched green beans on a bamboo log, arranging the skewers on top. He also artfully attached the skewered pork to a wooden tree he uses when he serves satays for parties.

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