Now that you know how to cook fantastic Beef Prime Rib, let’s consider a different but equally delicious roast– Loin of Pork.
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Before we start cooking, let’s cover a few important points. In no particular order–
Like cattle, pigs are divided into primal, sub-primal, and portion cuts, (Click HERE for a concise breakdown.)
No, there is no such thing as “Prime Rib of Pork.” That is a clever (if unofficial) marketing name for a pork loin roast, which, as with beef, can be bone-in or boneless.
You might also see a pork loin roast with its bones attached being sold as “rack of pork loin.” While I prefer boneless (beef) prime rib for a number of reasons, they don’t apply to pork roasts, which portion perfectly at one rib per person.
Cattle have 13 ribs, while pigs have 14. Beef’s Rib Primal runs from ribs 6 through 12, while the entire 14-rib section of pork is called the loin.
Just as the beef rib primal has a chuck end and a loin end, the front section of the pork loin is called the rib half, while the rear section is called the sirloin half. “Center-Cut Pork Chops” come from the middle of the loin, which is considered the best source of both chops and roasts.
Unlike beef, pork is not graded according to fat content. Pork IS more thoroughly inspected than beef by the USDA for wholesomeness.
While beef has a strong and distinctive innate flavor, pork’s is much milder… kind of like comparing red wine and white wine.
One consequence of pork’s milder flavor profile is that it is a wonderful vehicle for a wide range of bold flavorings– sweet and/or sour, spicy hot, fruits (from apples to apricots), mustard, horseradish, fresh herbs… you name it. Even cranberry (more on that later.)
American Yorkshire is the common, go-to breed that you see in stores. Some supermarket pork is better than others, depending on how it is raised and fed. As you’ll see, we can do much better than American Yorkshire.
Pigs are not necessarily (PROFANITY ALERT) “filthy animals.” Like turkeys, chicken, and beef, some pigs are raised in nicer, more sanitary conditions than others.
And no, you don’t need to cook pork to the point of utter ruination in order to make it safe for human consumption. Trichinosis has been largely eliminated. 145º is now accepted as the safe internal cooking temperature, which will leave your pork roast a delightful rosy pink. (Click HERE for further explanation.)
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SHOPPING FOR PORK
Whether buying a pork roast or other pork products such as bacon, ham, or spare ribs and shoulder sections for smoking, I recommend leaving the American Yorkshire behind and seeking out the fancier breeds online. The Kurobuta breed originated in Japan and is the same black pig as the Berkshire breed from England. It is widely available online. The Iberico breed comes from Spain and Portugal and is responsible for some of the most exquisite and expensive ham in the world. It is not as widely available as Kurobuta. Neither is the curly-haired Mangalitsa, which comes from Hungary. For our purposes here, all three of these breeds are far better choices than the regular American Yorkshire pork at the supermarket. (Interestingly, all three of these fancy breeds lay claim here and there to being the “Wagyu of Pork.”)
A tasty shot right from the website of D’Artagnan, one of our go-to online meat purveyors.
COOKING A PORK ROAST
If you’ve read Prime Rib Demystified, you already know just about everything you need to know about roasting pork– remove it from the fridge and let it warm up before roasting; use a digital monitoring thermometer; sear your roast with high heat at the beginning, at the end, or both; and cook it low and slowly to the desired internal temperature– in this case, 145ºF.
At the risk of sounding lazy, or as if I have a deadline I’m struggling to meet (which is actually true) here’s where I deviate from my usual modus operandi. Rather than peruse dozens of versions, try out a few, and then distill them into a single specific recipe, I’m simply going to recommend that you search for recipes yourself and find one that A.) sounds delicious; and B.) roughly comports with everything you’ve learned in this essay and the earlier piece about prime rib. I’m doing this because, much more so than with prime rib, there is a tremendous variety of flavorings possible with pork loin roast. Just be sure that the recipe you choose is for pork LOIN, not TENDERLOIN, nor for one of the shoulder cuts, which require cooking methods much different than what is optimal for pork loin. Also, read the fine print and make sure your recipe of choice entails roasting, not braising.
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My most recent effort was with a boneless Kurobuta roast. It was rather flat-shaped, a problem I resolved with gravity alone by placing it on edge and gently smooshing it into a rounder configuration– much better for roasting evenly.
While meat from Yorkshire pork is quite pale, the flesh of other breeds I’ve mentioned, particularly the Mangalitsa, is much darker, trending toward almost as red as beef.
Contrary to common wisdom, the fat of these three special breeds I’ve mentioned is reputed to be much healthier than that of Yorkshire pork, as in downright olive-oil-healthy.
More than any other meat, pork has an especially strong affinity for apples. You can satisfy this by serving your roast with a cider-based sauce and/or with sauteed apple slices. Apple-friendly spices like cinnamon and clove work wonderfully with pork.
As you search for recipes, you’ll see that pork also enjoys the company of herbs like sage and rosemary. Pork also loves garlic. And Asian seasonings. And just about everything else.
If you cook like I do and adopt elements from multiple recipes, know when to stop. If you take everything that sounds good with pork and try to combine them all in one recipe, you will probably regret it.
I made a game effort at fashioning a pork-friendly cranberry sauce. Despite the inclusion of orange-tangerine marmalade, port wine, red onions, red wine vinegar, spices, and demi-glace, it still tasted one hell of a lot like cranberries. Pretty good, though… see the recipe below.
Pork itself is kind of a neutral background for wine. Therefore, pair your delicious pork roast with A.) wine you like; and B.) wine that is compatible with your sauce and seasonings. Light Pinot Noir is generally a great red for most pork dishes. Among whites, Riesling is a natural choice; however, Gewürztraminer might well have found its happiest setting as a go-to white for pork. Viognier, another lesser-known white variety, also works quite nicely.
And finally, leftover roasted pork loin fries up beautifully; one more reason for roasting it to medium rare is that it leaves a little wiggle room for further cooking. Andrea & I enjoyed re-heated slices of this roast in lieu of bacon just this morning.
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CRANBERRY SAUCE FOR ROAST PORK
1 2-pound bag of fresh cranberries
1 12-ounce jar of orange marmalade
1 red onion, finely diced
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup ruby port
¼ cup (or more, to taste) Dijon or German mustard
1 tsp. demi-glace
Tiny pinches (⅛ tsp.) of cayenne pepper, clove, and cinnamon
Oven-dry ⅓ of the cranberries on parchment paper at 225ºF until they start to shrivel. (This takes all freaking afternoon.) Saute the onions in just enough grape seed oil until soft. Gently simmer cranberries in just enough water. Add half or more of the marmalade and the demi-glace as they cook. When the simmering cranberries are soft and mashable and the demi-glace is dissolved, add the onions and the other ingredients, mix thoroughly, and add oven-dried cranberries when they are ready. Carefully salt to taste.
Use this sauce on pork roast and ham as well as other white meats such as chicken, turkey, or veal.