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.