From Nose to Tail, Be Inspired by Pork

By: Katherine Alford
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Our kitchens turned into pork central when Joshua Applestone of Fleisher's led us in a "nose to tail" class. We butchered, cooked, developed recipes and got inspired by the awesomeness of great pork. Using every part is good economy and ecology (and how we need to think about all meats in general), but it’s also fabulous eating. It is remarkable what comes from thinking whole hog:

Bacon -- the "gateway meat" -- starts out as belly and is transformed by both its salty cure and a smoky finish. Pancetta, the Italian version is not smoked; the Irish keep the loin attached; and Canadians, in characteristic self-control, forgo the rich belly altogether and focus on the lean loin. Brits make rashers from this cut; the French make lardons, rillettes and rillon; and the Chinese stir-fry or red cook it. Amazingly, a new breed of hog-wild chefs has given pork belly a makeover as the ultimate fashionable fare.

So what’s right for family dinner? Go-to speedy chops from the loin: They can be center cut, thick or thin, T-bone-like with a tenderloin nugget, or boneless for medallions or cutlets. The best of this class are slightly rosy, firm, not flabby, nor pumped up with enhancing solutions. Pork tenderloins take pride of plate for being super lean and fast. Both chops and tenderloins feed and fuel us, whether they're brined, braised, baked, broiled, grilled or seared.

Crowd-friendly roasts — juicy Porchetta, Pernil, Arrista, elegant rack or crowns — are cut from the fore and hind quarters or loin. This also includes fresh hams, picnics, blade roasts, sirloins and Boston butts (actually from the shoulder, but never mind). These cuts can be kind on the wallet and, when coaxed by gentle roasting, braising or slow cooking, make for fine party or weeknight eating.

Ribs — baby back, St. Louis, country and spare — find barbecue deliciousness in many styles, from vinegary Carolina, dry-rubbed Memphis, saucy Texas, lacquered Thai or citrusy Cuban. Gentle, smoky cooking marks these with a distinctive smoke ring and makes for a happy Mr. Brown (Southern for all things pork).

We love to Ham it up — cured, smoked or slow aged. Think silky Parma prosciutto, Iberian, Parisian, Polish, Black Forest, Yunnan, Virginia, country, citified, chestnut feed, steaks or just floating with cheese between bread.

Hats off to all those nasty bits, too, like scrapple, trotters, chitlins, cheeks and jowls, lardo, and offal, which make some squeamish and others relish in the highest form. We can’t deny the guilty pleasure of carnitas (don’t ask, the best are cooked in lard), addictive cracklings and crispy rinds. And a quality old-school hot dog holds an esteemed spot in our pantheon of pork.

Fatty, you say? But that’s pork’s charm! A little goes a long way. Drop a hock or a shank in a pot of beans or greens and y’all experience a classic Southern potlikker.

Thanks to the masters who transform pork into pates, terrines, speck, sopresatta, saussison, Andouille, Coppa or chorizo. Kudos to those who dig and tend hog pits with smoldering fires and then pull, chop and sauce pork into all-American blissfulness.

And let’s not forget the passionate farmers who raise heritage breeds like Berkshire, Tamworth, Mangalista and Ossabow. Those farmers both honor these animals and remind us that all this good eating starts with good farming.

So next time pork is for dinner, have some fun and discover a new cut, preparation, or way of looking at this remarkable meat.

Need inspiration?

Get the recipes we developed in the kitchens:

Check out The Whole Hog Cookbook by Libbie Summers, and give a few of her best bacon recipes a try this week:

And visit La Quercia for some quality cured meat.

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