Pork: Perfect For Comfort Food

Pork Perfect Comfort Food

Sometimes you have to turn back the clock to get up to the minute. Take the crowd-pleasing comfort food trend. It’s a revival of the flavors, ingredients, and attitudes of a real or idealized past-simple techniques, ample portions, and unfussy plate presentations. That’s why comfort food is such a welcome yin to the yang of exotic flavors and ethnic fusions on menus today.

You might as well be describing pork, long a staple of the family dinners and special celebrations-from roasts, hams, and hearty stews to backyard barbecue-that happy memories are made of. And more and more operators are tapping that aura with traditional favorites of their own. In fact, a recent survey of 100 commercial and noncommercial operators commissioned by the National Pork Board (NPB) indicates that seven out of 10 operators have incorporated comfort food into their menus (nine out of 10 of the bellwether casual-dining operators), and seven out of 10 have added barbecue items.

“The food of yesterday done today.” That’s the idea behind Bubba’s Diner in San Anselmo, Calif., an all-day eatery holding its own against trendy Italian, Mediterranean, French, Thai, and sushi bar competitors in Marin County. Chef-owner Stephen Simmons relies on economical foodstuffs, simple but classic recipes, and sheer volume to make his 32-seat diner successful.

He’s creating a fan base for homey but high quality “suppers” and blue plate specials like smothered pork chops, roast pork tenderloin with cabbage, barbecued ribs, and his trademark pork fricassee with biscuit topping, a winner in the recent California Regional Taste of Elegance sponsored by the NPB. “There’s great attention to detail in our entrees, side dishes, desserts-in everything we do,” says Simmons.

Pork fricassee is a dish Simmons adapted from his grandma’s chicken. it starts with diced pork butt, browned and simmered in stock until fork tender, along with pearl onions, mushrooms, carrots, and celery, then topped with crumbly squares of fresh baked biscuit and served with an order of greens. “The longer you cook it, the more flavor you develop in the gravy and the vegetables,” he explains.

At Cafe Louis in Boston, the signature Tender Pork descends from the rustic French confit. According to executive chef Michael Schlow, the dish is made from medallions of pork butt that have been cooked very slowly, for up to five hours, then stored in the cooking liquid. “It’s a great way to tenderize the pork without overcooking it,” notes Schlow. At service, the pork is removed from the liquid, seasoned with coriander, brown sugar, and cumin, caramelized under the broiler, and plated over a warm salad of haricot verts, flageolet beans, baby beets, and oyster mushrooms.

Schlow developed the item as a lower food-cost balance to the truffle oil, caviar, and fois gras of his modern French menu, but now Bostonians treat themselves with the $23 plate to the tune of 100 orders per week. “It soothes in one sense, yet it also elevates pork shoulder to another level,” he notes.

Comfort food shines in a showbiz setting at House of Blues, the West Hollywood, Calif.-based “eatertainment” restaurant concept that combines a state-of-the-art concert venue with a menu of Southern Regional and eclectic choices. One big hit is Smoked Double Cut Pork Chop, a 10-oz. center cut chop smoked over mesquite wood, grilled, then served with braised red cabbage, garlic mashed potatoes, and sweet potato gravy, “Lately, I’ve been loving pork a lot,” says Joe Marcus, vice president of culinary development. “I take a lot of Southern and New Orleans style ingredients and give them a contemporary twist, and people really eat it up.”

Recent Posts