Jude's Culinary Journey

Why I love pork

Let me count the ways

Posted 10/24/23

I fondly remember my mom’s thick, juicy, bone-in pork chops. The bit of fat clinging to the edges would get crisp and crunchy. We always had her homemade applesauce with the chops. That meal …

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Jude's Culinary Journey

Why I love pork

Let me count the ways


I fondly remember my mom’s thick, juicy, bone-in pork chops. The bit of fat clinging to the edges would get crisp and crunchy. We always had her homemade applesauce with the chops. That meal was a childhood favorite.
Then, soon after I entered high school, I went on a health kick and gave up pork, beef and lamb (I never ate veal in my entire life, having seen how it was raised). At my mom’s pleading, and because I felt they were not as unhealthy, I kept chicken and fish in my diet.
Fast forward a couple of decades. You may have heard about this episode. I was sitting in a Spanish tapas restaurant with two friends. One was a chef and the other an overweight gourmand. The latter asked the waiter, “What’s the one dish we should not leave this restaurant without trying?”
“Our roast suckling pig,” was the response.
Another round of sangria all around. Then this platter was placed before us and our eyes popped open. I had never seen anything so beautiful and majestic. The crisp skin was the color of mahogany and the sticky-tender meat looked delicious.
My friends dug in and made all kinds of noises of approval accompanied by swooning and eye-rolling. I hesitated only a moment. After all, I had given up meat for health reasons, not in protest of the killing of animals. I sliced off a small chunk, the knife sticking slightly as it shattered the taut skin. Needless to say, I never looked back.
The thing that’s so amazing and tantalizing about pork is that it comes in many forms. Each part of the pig lends itself to a different preparation.
Many countries around the world utilize one or another part of the hog. In China (the country with the highest consumption of pork) and the Philippines, the whole head is used, as it is in Spain, where it is brined and braised and then roasted slowly in a wood-burning oven. Ears are usually fried and devoured in Bulgaria, Portugal, Thailand, Lithuania, China and the Philippines. Pork jowl (cheeks) can be found in part of America as a soul food entrée. It goes on and on.
With time, I began to explore the world of pork in its many iterations. In Mexico, where they know their way around swine, I fell in love with tacos al pastor. As in the Lebanese tradition, akin to the Middle Eastern method of cooking lamb or chicken shawarma, the pork is turned on a vertical spit as it’s grilled until cooked. The tasty meat is sliced into a warm taco along with small chunks of grilled pineapple. This is topped with minced white onion and pungent chopped cilantro. The combination of the savory meat and the sweet pineapple bursts in the mouth. Juice runs down the chin, but eaters are happy and don’t care.
Now for the different cuts of the piggy: Pork shoulder is one of the more fatty cuts and is massive in size. Its rich, tender meat, with lots of marbling, is favored by pitmasters for cooking “low and slow” for barbecues.
Pork butt is succulent and makes for a flavorful meal, particularly when used to make pulled pork.
Brisket is also used at BBQ joints. It’s one of the fattiest and most tender cuts, which is why, when—once again—cooked “low and slow,” it amplifies its delectable flavor.
Pork loin cuts are used for classic chops. A variety of cooking methods work well for pork chops, such as grilling, frying, baking and broiling. Pork spareribs and baby back ribs come from different parts of the pig. They are what you’ll find in many Chinese restaurants as an appetizer. But you can also find them in summer in your local supermarket to be cooked on the grill.
Pork tenderloin is a lean cut. It cooks quickly and is great for grilling, broiling or roasting, but it’s best to marinate it for a while and keep a sharp eye on it so it doesn’t dry out as it cooks for such a short period of time. I usually make an Asian-inspired marinade, which I boil down while the loin cooks so I have a flavorful sauce with which to serve the thick slices of loin.
Ham hocks, which is the knuckle of the pig, have a rich, smoky, porky taste similar to bacon. It is used to make soups and stocks after hours of cooking, which breaks them down and softens them. Split pea soup and braised collard greens benefit from the residue left behind from the hocks.
And speaking of bacon, my mom used to make us peanut butter and bacon sandwiches on toasted whole wheat bread. The sweet, melting peanut butter and the crunch of the savory bacon was a hit for me and my sister Janet.
I didn’t have a BLT until a few years ago, believe it or not. It wasn’t something made in our house and I never understood the appeal of wet vegetables on bread, nor did I eat tomatoes as a kid. So it was that three years ago Janet and I were in a restaurant in Oaxaca known for its house-baked bread, and we ordered BLTs for breakfast—a life-changing experience.
Pork belly stems from the flesh of the gut, near the loin. It is exceptionally tasty. Usually, the skin is left on for added crunch and it is often served on soft, squishy bao buns along with hoisin sauce, lightly pickled cucumbers or shredded cabbage, and cilantro at Japanese ramen restaurants and at Chinese eateries. There are plenty of places where you can sample these delectable treats if you make a trip to Manhattan.
Finally, there is ground pork. It can be mixed with equal amounts of ground beef for Italian meatballs, but it’s full of flavor on its own and I have made many variations of pork meatballs, one with a pomegranate molasses glaze; those seasoned with ginger, garlic and fresh cilantro; and an Asian-style version served with thinly sliced pickled radish.
Whatever you call it, here’s to the meat of the hog, piggy, swine, porker, sow, boar and piglet. Let’s eat!

Chinese meatballs with dipping sauce

Serves 4
The Vietnamese chili garlic sauce or sriracha hot chili sauce called for in the dipping sauce recipe will be barely discernable. If you like your food spicy, you can add up to a tablespoon.
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs or Japanese panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon light or dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (or sriracha hot chili sauce)
2 scallions, white and light green part, sliced thinly
For garnish:
2 tablespoons thinly slice Thai basil leaves
2 tablespoons snipped chives
1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
For the meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large mixing bowl, add the ground pork and all the other ingredients. Don’t over-mix.
Cover a large baking tray or jellyroll pan with a sheet of aluminum foil. Spray the sheet with oil or spread a little oil over the foil with a paper towel.
Form the pork into little meatballs and place each on the baking tray. Bake for 14 minutes, until cooked through. Set aside while you make the sauce.
For the dipping sauce:
In a small bowl, mix together the dipping sauce ingredients, ending with the sliced scallions. They should be floating on top of the sauce.
To serve:
Place the meatballs on a decorative shallow serving bowl and sprinkle with the herbs and sesame seeds. Serve with the dipping sauce or drizzle the sauce over the meatballs.

Jude Waterston, pork, world food, recipes, cooking, Chinese meatballs, Jude's Culinary Journey


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