Trimmer pork requires tender touch New era: Modern, lean hogs mean the days of marathon cooking 'the other white meat' should be over.

February 21, 1996|By Kim Pierce | Kim Pierce,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

They stick in our brains: "It's the real thing," "You deserve a break today," "It does a body good."

And, of course, "the other white meat."

Armed with that slogan, and 31 percent leaner hogs, the National Pork Producers Council has succeeded in getting Americans to rethink pork.

Since 1987, "the other white meat" has been the linchpin of a national pork campaign, which a council spokeswoman says has targeted consumers and restaurants.

The message has hit home: Pork consumption per capita has risen slightly over that time, as has overall meat consumption. In 1987, the average American ate 45.8 pounds of boneless pork meat, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By 1994, the amount had increased to 49.9 pounds. Based on anecdotal accounts, 1995 may show a greater leap.

"It's another thing to add to your menu that's more variety, and you can use it like chicken," says Laura Huntsinger, chef of the Pine Crest Inn in Tryon, N.C.

Pork's new slimmer profile is part of its attractiveness.

"The pork industry had lots of baggage to get rid of," says pork council spokeswoman Robin Kline. Some of it was fat -- literally. And pork for years had to be cooked to death because of trichinosis -- a disease caused by tiny worms sometimes present in the hog's flesh. Today, the infection in U.S. hogs is a rarity; this opened the door for less fanatical cooking techniques.

Producers first began leaning hogs down shortly after World War II, when the demand for lard diminished. But the current push started about 20 years ago, when producers recognized a trend toward leaner meat, Ms. Kline says, culminating in 1990 with a 31 percent leaner animal. And that's not just trimmed-off fat; that's a reduction in hidden intramuscle fat that can't be trimmed.

Pork's nutritional profile for cuts like chops and tenderloin falls somewhere between chicken and beef, depending on what's compared.

Using 4-ounce cooked portions, pork tenderloin, the leanest cut, comes in at 176 calories with 5 grams of fat. Roasted skinless chicken breast is 187 calories and 4 grams of fat. Braised round steak, one of the leanest beef cuts, has 242 calories and 7.5 grams of fat. By contrast, broiled beef tenderloin comes in at 345 calories and 25 grams of fat.

But there's a drawback: Some of the new pork is almost too lean, especially for home cooks who try to prepare it their old ways.

Whether you grill, roast or braise, all the cooks say go easy. Pork need only be cooked to medium -- an internal temperature of 160 degrees. A little pinkness is OK, even desirable. Otherwise, you'll turn it into the "other white shoe leather."

Peppered pork roast with cherry salsa

Makes 6 servings

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped bell pepper

1/3 cup chopped green chilies

1/3 cup chopped dried cherries

1/3 cup cherry jam

1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 to 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

2 teaspoons garlic salt

3 pounds boneless pork loin roast

to make cherry salsa, combine onion, bell pepper, chilies, cherries, jam, vinegar and cilantro; mix well. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.

For the roast, heat oven to 350 degrees. Rub pepper and garlic salt into pork roast, covering all surfaces. Place pork in a shallow pan and roast for 1 hour, or until internal temperature reaches 155 to 160 degrees.

Slice and serve with cherry salsa.

Per serving: 583 calories; 26 gfat; 176 mg cholesterol; 787 mg sodium; 41 percent calories from fat.

Pork tenderloin with cassis and black currants

Makes 6 to 8 servings

4 tablespoons clarified butter or vegetable oil (see note)

3 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons dried black currants, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes (see note)

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

4 ounces cassis liqueur

1 cup veal or chicken stock

6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, heat clarified butter over medium-high heat. Season the pork loin with salt and pepper and brown slightly on all sides. Transfer pork to an ovenproof dish and bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Pour excess butter from skillet. Add currants, vinegar and cassis; bring to a boil over medium heat, scraping to dissolve any brown bits. Cook until liquid is reduced by half.

Add the stock and again reduce by half. Whisk in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce thickens. Remove pork from oven and allow to stand 10 minutes. To serve, slice into 1/2 -inch slices, arrange on individual plates and spoon sauce over slices.

Note: To make clarified butter, melt over low heat and reserve yellow liquid, discarding the milky residue in the pan. The yellow liquid is the clarified butter. You may substitute raisins for currants in this recipe.

Per serving: 543 calories; 26 g fat; 211 mg cholesterol; 340 mg sodium; 44 percent calories from fat.

Grilled pork tenderloin

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup white wine

4 green onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1/2 teaspoon pepper

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