Pigs have suffered from a bad reputation probably from the time they first got tangled up with cavemen. At that time, of course, they were wild boars with ferocious tusks and a lot of hair, and no doubt deserved their fierce depictions on cave walls.
Most of the pigs we encounter these days, however, are pretty in pink; roly poly creatures intent for the most part on eating and sleeping. But, they still have bad reputations. How often did your mother say to you, “Clean up that room; it looks like a pig sty.” Or, “Slow down, you’re eating like a pig.”
“He’s a real pig,” some girl might say to another, and some guy might tell his buddy, “Dude, that gal’s a real pig.” For a brief period of time, even policemen were derogatorily referred to as “pigs.” We were told about trichinosis and the danger of eating undercooked pork and it was decidedly not one of the more favored items in the meat counter.
All that changed, albeit slowly, when improvements in the meat producing and packing processes eliminated the fear of trichinosis, and health concerns about eating too much “red meat” turned our attention to “the other white meat.” Pork gradually became the meat of the hour, popular with grocery shoppers, and some folks even turned piggies into pets, keeping miniaturized versions in their back yards.
Well, wouldn’t you know that’s about to change again, thanks to recently published, alarming reports about dangerous bacteria and drugs found to be widespread in a large number of pork samples tested in the laboratories of Consumer Reports. Yersinia enterocolitica (even the name sounds dangerous), a bacterium that can cause fever, diarrhea and intestinal pain, was one of the menaces found in 69 percent of the samples, along with lesser amounts of the better known salmonella, and varying levels of antibiotics.
I hadn’t realized that antibiotics are currently routinely fed to hogs to promote growth and leanness, a practice approved in this country but banned in China and European Union countries. I also learned that “no hormones added” printed on the label of a package of pork is a worthless claim because hormones aren’t allowed at all in any pork produced for consumption in this country. The phrase probably makes us feel better about our meat, however.
There isn’t room here to go into detail about the various unpleasant elements these tests found in pork, especially ground pork, but the end result is we’re back with the usual admonitions. Keep uncooked pork away from other foods and wipe and sanitize any surfaces on which the pork has lain; wash your hands after handling raw pork; use a meat thermometer when cooking pork to ensure an internal temperature that kills bacteria (145 degrees for whole pork, 165 degrees for ground pork); read labels carefully and try to find those that certify the pig was raised without antibiotics. (Whole Foods, by the way, carries only pork that uses neither antibiotics nor the growth drug ractopamine).
As I said, pigs have always had trouble getting any respect, but now their reputation is, once again, soiled.
Do you recall when pork was rich and juicy, full of flavor (and often a lot of fat)? When pork producers aimed at making pork a leaner, healthier, less fatty meat, they unfortunately gave us pork that too often turns out dry and bland when cooked. Brining is often recommended to retain both moisture and flavor, as is marinating. And as we all know, long slow cooking with lots of barbecue sauce also works, very well. One of my favorite cuts of pork is the tenderloin, primarily because it’s tender and juicy and easy to cook, compared to pork loin, which can dry out in a flash, and also because there are many delicious things you can turn a tenderloin into, such as these quick and easy pork medallions.
PORK MEDALLIONS IN CIDER SAUCE
1 T. vegetable oil
1 ½ lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed, then cut into 8 medallions approx. 1 ½-inches thick
1 cup apple cider
½ cup dry white wine
1 T. apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (see instructions)
Season the medallions with a bit of salt. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over med.-high heat. Sear the pork 5 min. on each side, or until golden brown.
Add cider, wine and vinegar; bring to a boil, cover, and cook 5 min. Remove lid, reduce heat to med. and simmer 5 more min., turning pork occasionally. Transfer medallions to a plate, season with pepper and tent with foil to keep warm. Simmer liquids in pan until reduced to ½ cup, about 8-10 min. Spoon sauce over pork and serve immediately. Serves 6.
Another flavorful, impressive but easy way to use your pork tenderloin is this knockout dinner party dish.
STUFFED PORK TENDERLOIN IN MUSHROOM SAUCE
2 pork tenderloins, about 1 lb. each
8 thin slices (about 8×2 inches) prosciutto
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (preferably made from crustless French or Italian bread)
2 t. finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
2 T. olive oil
1 t. salt and 1 t. freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
¾ lb. sliced mushrooms, (baby criminis are a good choice)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Arrange the tenderloins side by side on work surface with the thick end of one next to the thin end of the other. Slightly overlap the prosciutto strips crosswise down the length of the pork (the prosciutto will hang over on both sides).
Mix breadcrumbs, 1 t. each of the rosemary and thyme in a small bowl. Add 1 T. of the oil; toss to blend.
Sprinkle this crumb mixture on top of the prosciutto on one of the tenderloins.
Fold the prosciutto over to cover the stuffing and roll the second tenderloin over the prosciutto and stuffing on the first loin.
Using kitchen string, tie the tenderloins and stuffing together in four or five places to make a cylinder shaped roast.
Mix salt, pepper and remaining rosemary and thyme in a small bowl, then rub this mixture over the outside of the roast. Let stand 30 min.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat remaining T. oil in a heavy large oven-proof skillet (or Dutch oven) over med.-high heat. Add roast and sauté until brown, turning with tongs, to brown on all sides, about 7 min.
Place skillet with roast in oven and roast pork until thermometer inserted in thickest part registers 145 degrees (about 35 min.).
Transfer roast to a platter and tent loosely with foil to keep warm (temp. will rise as pork stands).
Place same skillet over med. heat. Add mushrooms and garlic; sauté until mushrooms begin to brown, about 6 min. (and don’t burn the garlic).
Add wine and broth; boil until sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon, scraping up browned bits as it cooks (10-12 min.).
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut roast crosswise into ½-inch thick slices, spoon mushroom sauce over the medallions and serve. Serves 6.