Thursday, December 3, 2009

How do I keep my pork chop from drying out? part one

This is maybe one of my most asked questions. And I have a lot to say about it, so much so that I set out to write this entry and it quickly became too long. So, for now, it's a two part series.

Pork is something of a paradox across our beautiful country . . . .and the world I guess. Pigs are something many countries take pride in putting on a plate, holding it close and touting their indigenous preparations as the best in the world. French have their sausages, hams and various terrines and charcuteries. Italians have prosciutto, salami, and numerous other cures and Chinese have roast pork, with that signature red hue. Puerto Rico-Pernil, Poland-kielbasa, I could go on and on and on.
America is no exception. We have serious bar-b-q, a uniquely national staple and one of my favorite ways to utilize a pig. . . . parts of the pig that is. While almost every nation consumes some form of chop, there really isn't a country just known for their preparation of them.

A crazy pork crown, the entire loin: you can see where the chops come from.
The world over, there's a luminous cloud of mystery hovering over the pork chop, deterring traumatized cooks who've fretted over the frying pan, sweating the illusive window where pork is still moist but not pink.
But why do people have so much trouble preparing a good pork chop? . . . A few factors stand out.

The first is because it's kind of hard to buy a good pork chop (in the States anyways). At conventional supermarkets, chops are generally to be avoided. They have little to no fat content, a result of "The other white meat" campaign spurred by the fat craze of the 80's. A pork chop should have decent fat content including marbling throughout the loin. Not only giving it more porky flavor, but also lending to its juiciness . . . or the sensation of juiciness.
When you take a bite of something, a few thing determine juiciness:
- the actual water content, which disappears pretty quickly with chewing
- the fat content, which makes your mouth water as you chew, giving the sensation of juiciness.

Marbling in the loin is key!

Imagine a bite of grilled chicken breast. Even if it is perfectly moist going in, it may seem dry by the time you've chewed it up for swallowing. Not so, however, if its doused in a fatty sauce, say a butter sauce or aioli. In pork, regardless of the condiment, a little marbling goes a very long way to make it seem juicy.

Another trouble with conventional pork is the term "added water". Avoid it like the plague, it's one of the more infuriating tactics of meat factory farms. Yes, they have a longer shelf life, but they might just shorten yours. This "added water" which can make up as much as 11% of the weight of said chop, is composed of water, but also sweeteners (dried glucose) poly-phosphates, (to retain the water) preservatives and other "natural" flavors.
What's more, when you drop this pork in a skillet to brown, you will get puddles of white gunk forming instead of a nice brown crust.
So skip this if you ever see it.

The Second is the people's fear of pink pork.
It's a learned thing, almost a survival trait. Something like with wild mushrooms, we hear not to dabble with pinkish pork a few times in different contexts and something in our brains click "Never consume pink pork!!"

But why?
Can you get sick from eating pink pork? Sure you can, just like any other undercooked food: runny egg yolks, a medium rare burger, oysters and sushi etc. etc. but pork is not any more risky.

Trichinosis is the parasite that originated the fear of pink pork, it's a nasty worm that occurs when carnivorous animals (including ourselves) eat raw or undercooked meat of a carnivorous animal.  Trichinosis was an issue when pigs were fed raw meat scraps from - this has been out of practice for over a decade.  The instances of trichinosis are so low as to be almost negligible, and the ones that do occur are seldom associated with pigs (omnivores), but rather carnivores such as bear and cougar.
Also, the parasite trichinosis dies at 137 degrees, but the governments conservative suggestion is for 165 degrees . . . . tested not with a thermometer, but by hitting your chop on the wall . . . if the wall cracks or breaks, it's done.
This also goes back to making sure your pork is good meat from a reliable source.

Start to change the way you think about pork and it will change the way you appreciate it.

Move on to part two of this series

Disclaimer: As with everything you do in life, there is a risk involved with choosing to consume raw and undercooked foods.
If you're not comfortable with it or just don't want to, that's fine.
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