I always avoid the more expensive cuts of pork – especially tenderloin, loin and loin chops - because their lack of fat leaves them as dry as a sandpaper doormat.
Instead, I’ve always plumped for the cheaper cuts, such as shoulder and belly, which require long, slow cooking to break down the collagen connective tissues and melt the fat, resulting in unctuous, melt-in-the-mouth meat.
The reverse is true when it comes to beef. I prefer my steaks mooing, and don’t really care for daubes and casseroles because, for me, the meat becomes too fibrous and flaky.
Is there a middle ground, not necessarily a hybrid of a cow and a pig – I’m not Doctor Doolittle – but of a pork steak that can be cooked like a beef steak: a pork steak that can be cooked nearly PINK!
Until recently, it has been sacrilege to cook pork medium-rare – and with good reason. Until animal welfare standards dramatically improved, pigs were inherently filthy beasts and and carriers of the parasite that causes the disease trichinosis.
But this now appears to have been wiped out , mainly because most pigs are raised indoors and chemicals have largely dealt with the parasites. So pork may now be lawfully (in the States) cooked at 62C (145F), the same temperature as whole cuts of beef and lamb.
This means that it is now safe to cook pork medium-rare, as long as you’re sure of the provenance of the meat – that it is at least free-range, but preferably organic - and then you ensure the tthe centre of the meat has reached that all-important 62C.
There are two ways to achieve this. The first is with a digital probe inserted into the centre of your cut; the second is my favourite – sous vide cooking. Simply set the water bath to the desired temperature, vacuum-pack you meat, then immerse in the bath for 2-3 hours.
The science is quite simple. The collagen that makes up most of the connective tissue of meats start to break down and dissolve at around the same temperature that bacteria like E coli die in numbers deemed safe – also known as the pasteurisation temperature. That is around 55C – cooked at that temperature for given amounts of time meat can be relied on to get less tough and more healthy. It still holds oxygen, and its juices do not evaporate much: so more flavour and colour will be retained.
I’ve long been a fan on this method of cooking and so, armed with the new-to-me knowledge that pork can be eaten medium-rare, I sourced the best piece of pork I could find and volunteered my reluctant wife as my guinea pig.
Now, my wife is old school when it comes to pork. She didn’t believe this experiment could result in any other outcome than a trip to casualty. But with some gentle
coercion persuasion I persuaded her to trust the man she had pledged to stick with through sickness an health.
The pork of choice was from the Iberico Pata Negra pig, the ultimate in organic free-range animals. They roam free in the woods of Spain, feasting on acorns. Their meat is deep red, like wild boar, and has the rich nutty aroma of their diet. But what makes it so different – and expensive ((£45 per kilo) – is the marbling of intra-muscular fat. This gives it both its taste and juiciness.
I went for ‘presa’ – a shoulder steak – and the site I bought it from recommended simply oiling and seasoning the meat before searing in a hot pan for a couple of minutes.
I wasn’t quite ready for that, so popped it into the sous vide at 65C for a couple of hours i.e. the temperature at which any risky bacteria would be terminated.
I then oiled and seasoned it with salt and pepper before flash-frying it in a white-hot cast iron frying pan for just a minute or so to brown it, for browning = flavour, as well as making it aesthetically pleasing.
The results were quite spectacular. It still had that density you expect from pork, but it was a juicy as a sirloin beef steak and just as tasty (nutty bacon came to mind).
You don’t need to buy something as expensive as Iberico to try medium-rare pork for yourself, nor have a sous vide. But I urge you to give pink pork a try. Here’s a number in case you need it: 999.
NOTE: This is not a debate the UK government enters into – but here’s the NHS advice on cooking, temperature and hygiene.