Jews, Muslims, and Dry Pork Eaters: Prepare to be Converted to Swine
Pulp Fiction: anti-pork propaganda.
Pork. Luscious, juicy, tasty pork. So flexible, so wonderful, yet so derided. Order it at dinner, and there's a good chance someone at your table, having demonstrated their conviction that beef is "better" than pork by really going out on a limb and ordering the filet mignon (which, by the way, is the name of a good friend of mine - Mignon, that is, not Filet), will look at you as if you just farted.
But consider this: pigs provide a cornucopia of edible delights, from bacon to sausage, from ribs to tenderloin. Pork has more flavor than boring old chicken but less than beef, which makes it great for taking a dry rub or marinade and allows you to manipulate it to work with almost any flavor profile you're cooking in. It can be extremely lean, wonderfully tender, and quite juicy. So how did pork become a four letter word when it comes to meat (aside from, you know, having four letters)?
The dirty reason. This one is pretty simple: there are plenty of people who refuse to eat pork simply because "pigs are dirty, dude" (mud-dirty, not porno-dirty). But since I'm not aware of anyone that actually serves the raw, unwashed skin of a pig for dinner, this reason is weak in the extreme. The irony is that the same people that fear pork because pigs are dirty probably don't have a problem letting their cats walk across their kitchen counters (Do you know where those paws have been? Have you ever looked at the litter box?) or letting their dogs lick their faces (Do you know where that tongue has been? Have you seen what dogs do when they're bored?).
The religious reason. Pork is forbidden in both Jewish and Islamic law. Why? Well, as for the former, the Bible says that you can't eat the meat of any animal that a) doesn't have cloven hooves, and b) isn't a ruminant. So apparently, if the animal in question doesn't partially digest its meals and then puke them up and chew on them all afternoon, they're too dirty to eat. Makes sense. And, I suppose, it's an easier rule to follow that the whole "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass...or wife...or wife's ass" thing.
And as for the latter, the Qur'an doesn't really give a reason as far as I know. It's just laid out as an apparently arbitrary rule: "don't eat pork." Except it's called swine, and it's phrased all religion-ey. Interestingly, if you're forced to eat pork, the Qur'an explains that you will be granted forgiveness. No such out-clause appears in the Bible.
As for me, I'm not a religious man (you may have guessed this), so neither rule effects me one iota. But even if I were, I'd be like most people I've met and exercise a "pick-and-choose" method of following these sorts of rules, and you can bet your ass (not your neighbor's ass) that I'd ignore this one.
The "what they eat" reason. This reason, while still being pretty weak when compared to the joys of pork, admittedly has a bit more sack to it than the first two. You've heard how it goes: pigs are, well, pigs, and they'll eat pretty much anything. A surprising number of people seem to think that means four-day-old garbage from the dumpster behind Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips, but the fact is that pigs pretty much eat what they're fed, so it comes down to how and where they're raised. Sort of like every other type of livestock when you come to think of it.
The history reason. This one carries the most weight among people I know. It stems from having growing up eating pork chops that were overcooked by parents (but certainly not my mother, who always made perfect pork chops, and who happens to read my column) fearful of giving their kids trichinosis. These chops would be grilled, baked or fried so far beyond the point of edible that they had the approximate flavor and texture of medium-density fiberboard. Kids everywhere used copious amounts of applesauce slathered over the smallest pieces of pork chop possible in an effort to choke down dinner. There are generations of adults who spent their formative years living in fear of pork chop night, and, I believe, a few 12-step support groups have sprung up to help them cope.
Whatever the reasons though, pork became so sadly misunderstood that not only do many people avoid a delicious source of protein, an entire misdirection campaign was launched to convince people that it's something it isn't. But I've never been a fan of trying to market something by pretending it's something else, and, as far as I'm concerned, Cap'n Crunch may provide an excellent source of sugar while you're parked in front of the television at one in the morning but it sure as hell isn't a healthy breakfast, and pork may come in lean, tender, delicious cuts but it sure isn't "the other white meat."
So I say embrace the pig for who he is: a red-meat mammal that's classy enough to not chew his puke, comfortable enough with himself to roll in mud proudly, smart enough to not poop where he eats, and tasty enough to be part of any meal, any day.
Something to get you started: a recipe for fried tenderloin:
Take two 14-ounce pork tenderloins and slice each cross-ways into six slices. Butterfly each slice by cutting them parallel to the face, stopping about an inch from the end - spread them out and push down to finish butterfly.
Make a dry rub of:
1 Tbs paprika
2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp powdered garlic (one of the only good uses for this stuff)
1/2 tsp powdered sage
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Rub each tenderloin, then allow to sit in your fridge for an hour. Pour about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil into a pan and heat to medium-hot. Dredge each tenderloin in flour, then put in hot oil (will require a few batches).
Fry on each side for about 3-4 minutes, or until they are very slightly pink inside, and still juicy. Remove to a plate to cool, then pour off all but 1-2 Tbs of oil, retaining crunchy stuff in pan. Put pan back of heat and pour in one cup of milk. Stir to remove browned bits, bring to gentle boil but do not overcook the milk. The leftover flour should be enough to thicken it.
Pour resultant creamy gravy (you can strain it if you want, chicken) over fried pork and feel the piggy love.
Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and, if you are swine, he will batter you, fry you, and enjoy you with a nice Chianti.