It’s easy to fall into a routine at the meat counter — after all, pork chops and steaks are simple and guaranteed crowd pleasers. For something a little more interesting, however, follow the lead of chefs across the country and look at off-cuts such as cheek, shoulder, hock, feet and tails, all of which, with a little preparation and care, yield great flavour. Or, if you’re set on pork tenderloin, try taking it one step further with savoury stuffings. Either way, stretching your imagination (and your dollar) a bit will land you a meal that’s a cut above the rest.
Tender, My Love
Typically sold boneless, tenderloin is easy to portion out into individual medallions if you don’t want a larger roast, and is a good size for a smaller family.
How to Cook Pork Tenderloin: Lean and solid meat without much fat or sinew, fast-cooking tenderloin can be butterflied, rolled around savoury seasonings and roasted for a special occasion dinner or any time that warrants celebrating. Since pork tenderloin is relatively tender, it doesn’t need the low and slow cooking that tougher cuts require (in fact, overcook tenderloin and it will be dry and stringy). Prepare your filling ahead of time, and make sure it’s cooled before stuffing the tenderloin if it’s going to be sitting before cooking.
Tackle a crisp and crackling Stuffed Porchetta With Epic Homemade Gravy, spinach and bacon stuffed Rolled Pork Florentine, fly the Italian colours with Tricolore Stuffed Pork or go German with a Cauliflower and Caper Gratin With Pork Rouladen. If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, make succulent sandwiches or try one of these recipes.
Pork shoulder (or its alter ego, pork butt) is a more heavily marbled area than tenderloin, and can be prepared with the skin on or off, and can come bone in or boneless. You’re more likely to see blade cut shoulder (which comes from the area closer to the tenderloin) at the supermarket.
How to Cook Pork Shoulder: Pork shoulder can be cooked low and slow as a roast, or, when thinly sliced into chops, grilled on the barbecue. Cubed and seared off in a hot pan before adding to liquid, pork shoulder makes an excellent dish with lentils, adding flavour to braised dishes as it simmers away. Left whole, it’s the ideal vehicle for strong seasonings such as the vibrant herb and citrus marinade for harissa-spiked cider braised pork with apples. Or, pull the fork-tender pieces apart to shred for that summertime favourite, pulled pork sandwiches, best enjoyed with loads of smoky barbecue sauce.
Hock It To Me
Meaty pork hocks come from the front or back legs of the pig between the foot and shoulder. You may also see smoked hocks in German or Polish supermarkets, which can be used like ham bones to flavour soups.
How to Cook Pork Hocks: Settle in: you’re going to need patience with this one. Due to the fibrous tissue and sinew in hocks, longer cooking times are a necessity. Pork hocks can be braised in liquid with vegetables for a complete meal, or, for a true lesson in crispy carnivorousness, brined and roasted for crackling that puts chicharrones to shame.
Turning The Other Cheek
Pork cheeks come from the often used face muscles of the pig, which have sinew running through them but not much fat. When cooked, pork cheeks are soft, yet maintain enough structure that they can be used to stuff ravioli, pulled apart for ragu or simply served whole on top of mashed potatoes or a purée of parsnips. Most butchers should be able to set some aside for you if you call ahead of time or put in a special order.
How to Cook Pork Cheek: A quick pan sear on each side of the cheek, then a covered braise in flavoured liquid, will make pork cheeks fall-apart tender. Unlike the time commitment needed for cuts such as shoulder, however, cheeks cook relatively quickly — in under half an hour for most preparations. Combined with shredded potatoes for a crispy latke and a powerful salsa verde, pork cheeks can be a hearty lunch or appetizer with a crunchy exterior yielding to soft and luscious meat.
Give Crispy Pork Cheek Latke a try.
Happy Feet (and Tail)
North Americans may be more familiar with pig’s feet and tails through the gustatory delights of Oktoberfest (such as the revelry in Kitchener-Waterloo’s annual celebration) or the lively culinary tales of Mennonite cuisine in Canada’s doyenne Edna Staebler’s Food That Really Schmecks. These off-cuts are part and parcel to many cuisines, from spicy Jamaican stew peas with pig’s tails to Chinese red braised pig’s feet, redolent with soy, black vinegar and ginger.
How to Cook Pig’s Feet and Tails: The natural gelatinous goodness of both tails and feet add body and gloss to stocks, leading to that jello-like consistency much prized among soup connoisseurs. Traditional preparations of both tails and feet often begin with a boiling step to soften the meat, which can be picked off the bone and used to punch up the flavour of meatballs or croquettes. Pig’s tails can also be slathered with your favourite sauce or glaze and crisped under the broiler or on the grill for a sweet and sticky treat that will add a twist to your next barbecue.
So remember, pork chops aren’t the only cut in town — from cheek to tail, the entire pig is your playground. If you’re intrigued and want to check out more common pork cuts, as well as recommended cooking times and other info, check out this check out this handy chart and trot off to your butcher counter right away.