Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Everything but the Squeak

There has always been the need to cook pork thoroughly, and this still applies, although - due to the flesh being so lean, long cooking can make it dry, which can be avoided (see below). The given temperature of cooked pork should be at least 59C (137F), but as the temperature can vary in a joint, the recommended temperature for cooked pork is given as 75C (170F), to check this, push a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, and not close to a bone. It is always worth buying a meat thermometer, as this can be used for any types of meat (different meats need different temperatures). However, if no thermometer, then as with chicken, push in a skewer and - if the juices run quite clear with no trace of pink - then the joint should be done. Leave to rest in a warm place for 20 minutes before carving.

Starting with the head - this can be used for making brawn, and even the ears make a very good dish.
Moving along from the head towards the the rump, first comes the neck end, sold as spare rib (not to be confused with spare ribs) which are cut int0 chops. The whole joint can be boned and rolled for roasting or braising.
Next comes the foreloin, as a piece excellent for roasting, and also sold as chops. Followed by the middle loin usually roasted with or without the bone, although sometimes sold as chops to which you will see a bit of kidney attached. The final part of the top end is the chump end, which again can be roasted whole or divided into chops which this time have a wrap-around shape and contain more meat than other chops.
Under the middle and chump end of the pig lies the fillet - sometimes called tenderloin - which can be roasted whole, braised, or sliced for frying.
The back legs are for roasting or braising whole. The leg is often too large, so divided across into two parts to retail separately. The upper leg section or fillet end of leg provides excellent lean meat for roasting.

Now we come to the under parts of the pig, this time working from the back to the front. A good part of it is belly pork , however the belly from the middle contains more meat than the hind part.
Forward to the spare ribs (plural) not to be confused with the upper spare rib- singular) not much meat to the bone, usually roasted and glazed in sauces - eaten a lot as a Chinese side dish.

The foreleg is known as hand and spring (now called hock). Usually separated at the knee, the hand is the top half part which includes part of the belly and the upper foreleg. The hock is the lower foreleg. This is coarse meat, suitable for slow cooking, often sold boned and cubed for stewing.
Pig's trotters are cooked by lengthy poaching, then coated in breadcrumbs and grilled. They contain a lot of gelatine which makes them very useful for making jellied sauces (as used in pork pies for instance).
Pig's liver is generally too strong a flavour for most cooking, but is the best to use for making pate maison.

On to the cooking:
Rapid frying is only suitable for the very thin, lean slices of pork (as in escalopes), or strips for stir-frying. Thicker slices need to be seared (browned) over high heat then the heat reduced to allow the meat to cook through without burning. Thick chops can take up to half an hour to cook through, so cover with a lid to keep in the moisture.
To keep meat moist as it cooks, brush the meat with oil before grilling. Skewered, cubed pork should be wrapped round with streaky bacon which serves a similar purpose.
Roast pork needs the exposed areas of flesh covered with strips of pork fat or rind. They can also be basted regularly during the roasting time. However - to make good crackling, always score the rind before roasting and baste this part with water, not fat, which will ensure a crisp bubbly surface. Often the rind is removed from the joint and cooked separately so that you can baste that with water leaving the joint to be basted with its own juices.
Half an hour before the end of the recommended cooking time, check the temperature of the meat with the thermometer. Ovens vary and you don't want to overcook the meat.

Cooking times and temperatures:
Most cuts of pork should be started off at a temperature of 200C, 400F, gas 6, then - after 1o minutes - reduce heat to 170C, 325F, gas 3.
For prime roasts allow around 23 minutes per 1lb (500g). For cuts such as leg, hand etc, allow 2 - 3 minutes more per lb.
Any boned, stuffed cuts should first be weighed and the timing worked from that.

Poaching pork needs to be done with a fair bit of accuracy. Poaching is when the water is below boiling point and just hot enough for bubbles to be seen on the bottom and side of the pan. Even below what we call a simmer. No bubbles should break on the surface as when boiling, indeed the surface liquid should just quiver. If wishing to check by temperature, the water should be between 80 - 85C (175 and 185F). Placing a lid over the pan, allowing a small gap for steam to escape will prevent too much evaporation and also stop the steam building up which will raise the temperature of the water and ruin everything.
Pork poached at this low simmer will become very tender and any tissues will soften. At a higher heat (at boiling point) the meat will become tough and stringy.

That seems to have covered every eventuality except recipes. So I offer a few. Please ask if you have bought a cut of pork and not quite sure what to do with it.

The other week I cooked pork chops (leaving the fat on) in a frying pan until golden, then laid them on a bed of thickly sliced apple. Topped the chops with a prune and ginger stuffing (from a packet bought for Xmas but unused - but sage and onion would also go well with pork), covered the baking tin with foil and cooked them for half an hour before removing the foil to crisp up the stuffing. They were good, moist and tender - and everyone loved the stuffing, not to mention the apples (and of course the pork).

This next recipe makes good use of a mincing machine - and these are now coming back into fashion. The easiest way to clean a mincer is to run a crust of bread through it when finished with the mincing.
If using raw pork cut from a joint, just cut it into chunks and shove the pork, onion,bacon and herbs through the mincer together. Alternatively, you could blitz in a processor but not overdo it because you don't want it to end up like paste. When buying pork already minced, then just blitz the bacon and onion and herb in a processor or chop finely, then add them to the mince.
As regards the mashed potato - work in a knob of butter and maybe a spoon of cream, plus seasoning to taste.
Country Cottage Pie: serves 4
1 lb (500g) minced pork
1 lb (500g) mashed potato
2 rashers bacon, minced
1 onion, minced or grated
1 tblsp chopped parsley
8 fl oz (225ml) chicken or vegetable stock
1 tblsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
Mix together the pork, bacon, onion and parsley and place in an ovenproof dish, mixing in enough stock to give a fairly moist consistency. Season to taste.
Spread the mashed potato over the top, making sure you cover the meat completely so no juices can escape. Bake at 180c, 350F, gas 4 for one hour. If you wish for a browner top, finish off under the grill. Serve hot with vegetables of your choice.

Pork Stuffed Mushrooms: makes 4 starters
4 large flat mushrooms
1 oz (25g) butter
4 oz (100g) minced pork
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs
2 tblsp chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper
olive oil
Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth, remove the stalks and chop these finely. Heat the butter in a frying pan and gently cook the chopped stalk for a few minutes. Stir in the pork and saute for 5 minutes. When evenly browned, stir in the lemon zest, breadcrumbs and sage. Season to taste.
Brush both sides of the mushroom caps with olive oil, and place on a baking sheet, gills side up. Divide the pork mixture and use to top the mushrooms. Bake at 170C, 325C, gas 3 for 15 - 20 minutes. Garnish with watercress.

This final recipe is for a pie made with pork, rather than a pork pie, which is something completely different. As in the above recipe, this makes a little meat go quite a long way. The original recipe was made in two pie dishes to serve 16 - 20 people. Too much I thought, so have halved the ingredients. These could even be halved again to serve 4. The advantage with this dish is that it can be prepared earlier in the day, kept chilled and then baked an hour before serving.
Pork Tourtiere: serves 8 - 10
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 1/2lb (675g) minced pork
2 tblsp chopped parsley
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
pinch of cayenne
2 fl oz (50ml) dry cider (or apple juice)
1 bay leaf
6 oz (175g) puff pastry
beaten egg for glazing
Saute the onion, garlic and celery in the oil for 5 minutes. Stir in the pork and cook/stir until browned, then add the parsley, herbs, and seasoning/spices. Stir well, add the cider or apple juice, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Leave to cool.
Put the pork mixture into a 10" (25cm) pie dish. Roll the pastry into a circle large enough to cover the filling. Crimp the edges (it helps to put a strip of pastry around the sides of the dish, moisten that and then put the circle of pastry on top). Brush with the beaten egg, making a hole in the centre for the steam to escape.
Bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180C, 350F, gas 4 and continue cooking for 35 minutes, covering the pastry with foil (shiny side up to reflect heat away ) to prevent it browning too much. Serve hot.
tip: As pastry is part of this dish, there is no need to serve potatoes with it. Suggest carrots and a green vegetable, or just a crisp green salad.