Pigepiphany -- noun -- 1. Tasting real pork for the first time. 2. A realization that 99% of pork sold in the US is complete crap.
American pork is bred for leanness to meet consumers’ unquenchable thirst for all meats to look and taste like chicken. Nothing against chicken, but people’s obsession with it is absurd. If American food industry could breed chicken in fish, pork, beef, and lamb flavors, they would. Since food science hasn’t reached such heights yet, we settle for “chicken of the sea” tuna and the “other white meat” pork.
I’ve been experimenting with pork chops from Whole Foods for the past month with terrible results. Brining, marinating, high heat, low heat… nothing worked. They came out dense, with a taste of salt and sugar, not pig. Just as I was about to swear to never cook another pork chop in my life, helpful readers of this blog and my fellow chowhounds from the home cooking board came to my rescue. The opinion was unanimous: “It’s not you; it’s pork!”
“What you need is Berkshire or Kurobuta pork,” the chowhounds told me. Big foreign words to describe something as simple as a pork chop make me nervous. But curiosity got the best of me and I Googled for Savenor’s phone number. Surely, a butcher where Julia Child used to shop had to carry it.
“No, we don’t have it,” the Savenor’s butcher told me, “but our pork is excellent.”
“It is fatty?” I asked.
“Oh no – it’s beautifully lean!”
Ok guys. The words “beautifully lean” would be a compliment for a model, not for a pig.
Try number two -- John Dewar’s. By now I felt like a desperate drug addict calling a dealer.
“Do you have Kurobuta pork?”
“Fine. I’ll be there on Wednesday.”
“You’ll love it!” said the butcher at John Dewar’s as he cut me 2 ribs of a pork roast, “It doesn’t even taste like pork.” Hmm, doesn’t taste like pork? That was the whole reason I was in this crème de la crème (and price de la price) of Boston butcher shops, paying $20/pound for a pork chop. I could be eating bluefin sashimi or foie gras for this price, but no, I had to go on this ridiculous pork chop quest. What I was hoping he meant was that it didn’t taste like the “other white meat.”
For comparison, I decided to get their regular pork chop for $6/Lb.
Regular pork chop ($6/Lb)
Kurobuta pork chop ($20/Lb)
“Are they from different places?” I asked.
“No. Both from Iowa, but different breeds.”
“Should I brine or marinade them?”
“No, our pork doesn’t need any of that.”
“Even the regular chop?”
“Oh yeah! With supermarket pork, I’d recommend it, but with ours…”
I don’t know why I always ask them for advice. I guess I need that extra reassurance with meat. They’ve told me stuff before that backfired, and different butchers at Dewar’s have given me conflicting advice.
I agree with the Dewar’s guy on brining. It’s really a cheap and dirty trick to enhance otherwise mediocre meats. I love how consumers are all up in arms about “enhanced pork,” so they buy Whole Foods’ untreated pork only to bring it home and brine it. How do you think pork gets “enhanced”? Marinade is a whole other thing though – it doesn’t make the pork spongy and can impart flavors other than just salt and sugar. Not to mask the flavor of the meat, I settled on a simple marinade of rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
After a couple of hours, I fired up the grill, dried off my chops, and grilled them – first on the bone side to melt the fat and crisp it, and then on the flat sides. As soon as they browned, I turned down the heat to low until the chops reached 125F in the center. It’s not as undercooked as you’d think since the temperature went up another 10-15 degrees while they were resting. The only thing I did differently this time was keep the grill uncovered. This allowed the chops to brown nicely, while keeping the ambient temperature of the grill lower. The higher the temperature, the more the meat toughens, but the lower the temperature, the less the meat browns and less flavor develops. Man, and people say cooking fish is hard!
Regular chop grilled
Kurobuta chop grilled
After a 5-7 minute rest for the chops, during which they posed for pictures, we finally got to take our first ever bite of Kurobuta pork. Oh my! This is the part where words escape me. You didn’t need a knife. You didn’t even need a fork. The only reason you needed teeth was to get the pieces into your mouth. From then on, they just melted away. If this was a wine, I’d say it had a nice long finish of a Burgundy Grand Cru, but instead of truffles and violets, it tasted like a platonic ideal of a pig -- more flavorful than ribs, more tender than a tenderloin, more tasty than any pork I’ve ever had.
Inside of a regular chop
Inside of a Kurobuta chop
Eating a regular pork chop after this revelation was like drinking Two Buck Chuck. Ok, maybe not that bad. Whole Foods chops are like Two Buck Chuck. Dewar’s are like a $10 Australian Shiraz -- slightly better than the supermarket chops, but still of the “other white meat” garden variety. We took a few bites for the sake of science and left it at that.
I must confess that the reason I undertook this experiment was to prove to myself once and for all that pork chops are not worth cooking and that paying $20 for pork is complete insanity. In that respect I failed miserably. That pork chop was worth a bowl of bluefin tuna; it was worth a slice of foie gras terrine; it was even worth an hour in the gym.