Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Little About Pork

Blindfolded, you can taste the differences between a Honeycrisp apple and a Fuji. You love Brandywine tomatoes and Cherokee Purples. At the cheese counter, you order Royal Blue Stilton or Shropshire Blue depending on your mood. Congratulations, you’re a foodie.

Now, what about pork? What do you know about your bacon?

As it turns out, the story of American pork is pretty interesting. We have the Spanish conquistadors to thank for the introduction of pigs to the new world. In the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers brought pigs to South Eastern America. Eventually, these animals either escaped or were let out and became foragers. It was long thought that the breeds originated in Spain, but recent DNA testing (yes, someone is out there testing "porkies" genealogy) revealed that our pigs were most likely not from Europe at all; they came from the Canary Islands (off the coast of Northern Africa), which was a frequent stop of the explorers on their way to the New World. Later, other breeds arrived from Europe and elsewhere.

By the 1930s, there were fifteen different breeds of pigs in the U.S. Sadly, six breeds are now extinct. Several other breeds have 200 or fewer animals remaining, although they are making a comeback because of small farmers who raise them for specialty retailers.

The breed of pig that Americans are most familiar with is the Large White (and the Yorkshire, its direct descendent). It is a remarkable animal: hardy, fast growing and unusually adaptable. It is strong and withstands variations in climate and environment. As it grows, it has a tendency not to lay down excess fat, and is therefore a lean choice, ideal for the commercial environment as “the other white meat.”

Pork is popular everywhere in the U.S., of course, but in the South it has a special place of importance. Much of that tradition comes from the history of pigs in America. The earliest pigs five hundred years ago foraged and lived throughout the South, from Florida to Texas. No wonder that when we think of BBQ (where pork reins supreme), we immediately think: delicious southern.

Grilled Pork Tacos and Papaya Salsa
Papaya salsa: 1 papaya; peeled, seeded, cut in 1/2 inch cubes 1 sm red chili; seeded and fine chopped 1/2 cup red onion; chopped 1/2 cup red bell pepper; chopped 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves; chopped 2 tbsp Lime juice

Pork mixture: 1/4 lb pork boneless center loin roast; cut in 2x1/4 inch strips 1/2 cup fresh papaya; chopped 1/2 cup fresh pineapple; chopped 10 flour tortillas (6 or 7" in diameter); warmed 1 1/2 c Monterey Jack cheese; shredded (6 oz) 2 tb. Margarine or butter; melted

Cook pork in 10-inch skillet over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink; drain. Stir in papaya and pineapple. Heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. Heat oven to 425F.Spoon about 1/4 cup of the pork mixture onto half of each tortilla; top with about 2 tbsp. of the cheese. Fold tortillas over filling. Arrange five of the filled tortillas in ungreased jelly roll pan, 15 1/2x10 1/2x1 brush with melted margarine. Bake uncovered about 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Repeat with remaining tacos. Serve with Papaya Salsa.

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