Pork: The Light Alternative With Less Fat

People dine out for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is enjoyment. But they’re still interested in lighter, healthier meals-at the same time that they demand unique and satisfying restaurant experiences. If ever there were a call for Pork, The Other White Meat, this is it. Today’s pork averages 31 percent less fat, less than 200 calories for a 3-oz. cooked serving from the loin or tenderloin, and 10 percent less cholesterol than it did ten years ago.

A savvy chef can use light pork ideas to satisfy a broader market, not just the health-minded. Take executive chef Jeffrey Madura’s Roasted Pork Tenderloin Salad, stuffed with caramelized fennel, red onion, and watercress, served with orange and pink peppercorn vinaigrette. It’s a dish he perfected for the recent California Regional Taste of Elegance competition, sponsored by the National Pork Board, and later menued at John Ash & Co. in Santa Rosa, Calif., with great success.

“I’m not promoting it as a heart-healthy dish, even though it is,” explains Madura. People come to John Ash & Co., which specializes in Wine Country cuisine, to indulge themselves, whatever their eating habits at home. So Madura’s first aim is to make the food as flavorful as possible, sidestepping fat and calories if possible.

“Because of the rich flavor of pork, you don’t have to add lots of caloric butter sauces when you cook it properly,” he says. Moreover, offering the salad in 4-oz. and 7-oz. versions allows customers to control intake. “People can feel like they’ve had their protein, and still have room for another course, dessert, or an after-dinner drink,” notes Madura.

You don’t need a lot of added fats and calories to create a light but satisfying pork entree. just play up the meat’s strong suits. That’s the word from Mark Filippo, chef de cuisine of Cafe Meze in Hartsdale, N.Y. His roasted loin of pork, served with a phyllo cup of saut√©ed artichokes and a small dab of goat cheese, is fundamental cooking that also happens to be healthy, and it captures as much as 10% of total sales at the Mediterranean cafe.

Filippo simply debones a pork loin, seasons and browns it, and roasts it atop its bones and mirepoix to a juicy pinkness. The meat is presented in slices, drizzled with the defatted natural juices made from the drippings and the roasted pork bones and mirepoix. Filippo notes that a 5-oz. portion of rosy-tinged pork slices covers the plate more attractively than an equivalent sized chop or medallions.

Healthier eating “is right up there” among the top food trends executive chef Don Dickman sees at the new Daily Grill in the international terminal of Los Angeles International Airport, which serves everything from meatloaf to charbroiled tuna. One light idea is the popular pork stir-fry, one of the restaurant’s rotating daily stir-fries. The item is cooked to order and served with rice and Asian-style vegetables like Napa cabbage, snow peas, carrots, and broccoli, and a lively Szechwan sauce. “There’s some oil, but relatively little compared to the amount of grain and vegetables,” he says. “And the meat is pork loin, one of the leanest you can get. Over the years, it’s become a much leaner, much more versatile piece of meat.”

The stir-fry is also a handy way to cross-utilize rotisserie pork loin. In addition, the item’s quick to serve when erratic airline operations bring unpredictable rushes. “Visually, nutritionally, taste-wise, and operationally, it’s a great dish,” he says.

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