Monday, August 22, 2011

Culinary Tip Week 6 Pork the Magical Animal

Culinary Tip Week 6

Thank goodness for the pig and the magical animal that it is. I don’t really care which part you are serving me I will happily eat it. I am a total utilization food girl. And yes deep-frying is cheating; you can make it taste good in many other ways.

Even though the fat on the back of the shoulder is called the clear plate and the fat on the loin is called the fat back, it is used interchangeably. Pork fat is an awesome thing because of the flavor and the melting temp. It is the fat used mostly for sausages and many other tasty adventures. I think duck fat might be catching up a little, but it still has miles to go before it’s as popular as pork fat for cooking.

Let’s break it down

The Boston Butt you will see called a myriad of things, boston shoulder, shoulder, butt shoulder, butt roast, shoulder roast. Then to make things a little more complicated the Picnic Shoulder is right below it and that’s called a variety of things too and many times you will see them package together as one big piece of meat (ok maybe only at Costco).

Boston Butt: shoulder chops, country style ribs (anterior region of the loin ribs), shoulder roast, boston roast, ground

Don’t worry about trying to keep them separate they are so similar in make-up that it will make very little difference in how you cook them. I used to tell students that you can tell which one is the picnic because it can’t pick up the basket the arm is missing. That sounds a little disturbing but I bet you won’t forget it now. Look for the arm bone and you are good to go.

Other things coming from the Picnic Shoulder: arm roast, arm steak, picnic roast

Loin: full loin, loin chops, sirloin chops, tenderloin (different from the loin), rib chops, crown roast, sirloin cutlet, top loin chop, country style ribs, back ribs, Canadian bacon, loin roast, sirloin

The loin itself is very lean so brine it, marinate it, and don’t over cook it!! Thank goodness they just lowered the cooking temperature of pork to 145°. Please please pull it at 140° it’ll continue to cook and you won’t have tough dry meat. Blech.

Leg or Fresh Ham: it’s not a ham until it’s been cured and/or smoked. leg roasts

The picture isn’t great the belly is the entire section of the both the Fresh Bacon and the Spare Ribs. The ribs are lying on top of the fresh bacon, so once those have been peeled off you have the two individual pieces. Salt pork also comes from this area

The hocks are almost always cured and smoked and great for flavoring soups, stews and beans of course.

Pig’s feet or trotters are full of collagen a connective tissue that breaks down with most heat cooking and adds wonderful flavor and body to stocks. Besides the classic pickled pigs feet, many chefs will split the trotters lengthwise and use them in stock.

The same goes for pig as beef, the high motion areas of the animal are going to be tougher. Pig has a lot of collagen in the should region that makes it ideal for braising and slow low heat cooking because of all the tenderness and flavor it imparts, that’s where we get our beautiful pulled pork.

The last thing is the jowl and if you ever see bacon ends and pieces in a grocery store that’s what you are probably getting, it looks and tastes exactly like bacon especially if it’s been cured and smoked. In fact I just made some jowl bacon last week. Guanciale is something that is a fad right now at least in Portland. It’s the unsmoked and dry cured jowl that’s an Italian classic. Now you know. If you see it on a menu, order it!


  1. For those of us who are challenged in the culinar department, your tips come as a huge relief. Thank you for making this murky area a little easier.