Pulling Pork into the Limelight

The “other white meat” gains fans because of its versatility.

By 
Paul King, Editor

Pork has long been like the ugly stepchild of the protein family, in part because of bans on the use of pig by some religious groups, and in part because of the vestiges of the old fears about trichinosis.

In truth, pork is one of the more versatile meats. It can be prepared in many ways and has a place at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most chefs will tell you that they love experimenting with “the other white meat.”

Davidson College: Because North Carolina is the second-largest pork producing state, it makes sense that institutions in the state would use a lot of it. That’s certainly true at Davidson College, where Craig Mombert is the executive chef.

“We use it quite frequently here,” Mombert says. “It’s a consistent product, you can use it in a variety of ways so it’s easy to menu plan with it and the pricing is stable. We don’t have the issues with it that we have with fish or beef.”

He adds that the only downside is the objection some religious groups have to consuming pork products.

Pork barbecue is a favorite of Mombert’s. He uses shoulders and butts, seasoning the meat with his own barbecue sauce, and slow-cooks them overnight in a combi oven. He notes that the university can use 120 to 150 pounds of pork barbecue a week.
Other favorites include a pork loin braised with apples and beer and carnitas. “I’ve gotten addicted to carnitas,” Mombert admits. To make his carnitas, Mombert uses a trimmed Boston pork butt flavored with his own salsa verde, a rub of onion, garlic and other spices and chipotle in adobo. After cooking it overnight, he shreds the meat off the bone, tops it with a sauce made from the pork juices and serves it with warmed flour tortillas.

BCBS South Carolina: At Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, in Columbia, pork continues to be popular even as the company tries to help employees eat more healthfully.

“Pork still does continue to be part of our overall menu plan,” says Food Service Manager John Lindower. “Bacon is still our No. 1 breakfast meat choice, and we also have sausage links and patties available. Sausage cheese grits casserole is a once-a-week special and never fails to sell out. We also have ham available for our omelets, breakfast burritos and fried egg sandwiches.”

At lunch, specials using loins, tenderloins, pork chops, shoulders and barbecue are common. “Pork is very versatile,” Lindower explains. “Being able to roast, grill, sauté and fry the same primal cuts allows our specials to have a different look and taste all while using the same cut on a weekly basis.”

To help customers eat more healthfully, Lindower says, staff keep portion size consistently at four ounces, serve a lower-sodium deli ham, buy leaner pork and trim excess fat before cooking.

University of Kansas: At the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, in another big pork-producing state, Executive Chef Janna Traver does encounter a bit of pushback from the university’s significant Jewish and Muslim population. But pork does have a place on dining hall menus, and Traver is glad for that.

“I like playing with pork because it’s a very versatile product,” she explains. “It’s a nice light protein. I will use it in lieu of veal.”

One popular item is a boneless pork chop, filled with a cranberry stuffing and topped with a brandy glaze. Another is a sorghum-glazed pork belly, which she serves with a white bean cassoulet.

“The cassoulet can be a vegan item alongside the pork belly, or you can add the pork belly to it,” she says.

For catered functions, pork sometimes makes an appearance as an hors d’oeuvres or entrée. For example, Traver will do andouille sausage in puff pastry—“we say it’s what pigs in a blanket want to be when they grow up.”

“I also like a bone-in pork roast,” she adds. “It’s very elegant. It has more flavor than a boneless roast, and we can carve it at a buffet station or use it as a center-of-the plate item for a plated banquet.”

Hennepin County Medical Center: At Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Chef Antonio Sanchez says pork has “a fairly good following,” and he has a variety of items he uses on the menu to satisfy customer desires. For example, he will do a marinated pork tenderloin, baked with a pineapple glaze that is served at a carving station with roasted potatoes. He also prepares pork carnitas on his taco and burrito bar, as well as a pulled pork with pico de gallo and chipotle sauce.

“Sweet and sour pork is also very popular, “ he adds. “And we did pork barbecued ribs [recently] and sold 120 pounds, about 30% of our sales for that day.


Pork: By The Numbers

• 67,000 farmers in the United States produce 22 billion pounds of pork per year. The largest pork-producing states, in descending order, are Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio and Kansas.

• Pork is the most widely consumed meat in the world, with 42% of daily protein intake coming from the meat. Pork is followed by chicken (33%), beef (22%) and turkey (3%). Among pork products in the U.S., ham is the most widely consumed, followed by pork sausage and bacon.

• The U.S. is the largest exporter of pork in the world. One of every four hogs is exported to other countries. The largest importers of U.S. pork are Mexico, Japan, China and Canada.

• Pork is becoming a healthier protein, in part because hogs are being bred to be leaner. They contain 75% less fat than hogs of 50 years ago. The six most popular cuts of pork are 16% leaner and contain 27% less saturated fat than they did in 1990.

• Although chefs love to get creative with fresh pork, from shoulders cuts to ribs and loins, more than 78% of the pork Americans consume is processed—ham, bacon, sausage and the like.

Source: National Pork Board