Friday, January 4, 2008

Evolving Beyond Bacon: The Glories of Pork

Hello long lost readers,

Yes it's been awhile, please forgive! There've been travels galore and many excuses as to why I haven't updated in 2 months. Let's look forward, though. It's time to talk about pork.

When Neil and I traveled to Germany in November, the trip reminded me -- beyond the glorious Christmas markets, fun and adventure -- how one-dimensional our experiences with pork are in the U.S.

You know what I mean, in restaurants there are basically 3 ways to order pork: as a chop, as a medallion, as a side of bacon. Hey no one here is dissing the side of bacon!; all this foodie's saying is in a great dining country like this, why do most restaurants serve the same cuts of pork?

The best pork dishes we ate in Germany -- and typical of that part of the world's cuisine -- were the pork steak (with ie. pepper cream sauce) and the pork filet (with ie. mustard cream sauce). In addition, there was the bratwurst and all sorts of beautiful crackly pork sausages served with mustard, and of course don't forget the schnitzels... a pounded filet (usually veal but sometimes pork) breaded and exquisitely fried with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a dash of capers on top. Fattening though so wunderbar!

It's because pork is such a prominent protein in the German culture that we were even delighted to find the when-will-that-come-back-again McRib sandwich (formed pork in the shape of ribs doused in BBQ sauce on a soft bun with fresh onions) on every McDonald's menu in the cities we visited. We had to partake...because we could! And yes it was good.

So when back to this part of the woods, I wondered why pork isn't often served as a steak or filet on indigenous menus when it's so amazing! To me standard pork chops are ok but have a heavy taste from the fat around the bone that gets redundant. And usually pork medallions are too dry. The steak and the filet were moist and so flavorful! The pork flavor shines through and on the steak was especially excellent if served with a caramelized char. Oh yes if you can find it, try it.

Although I didn't have such luck once home, pretty much forgot about it really until last Sunday when I went about my foodie business and tried the fab BLD for brunch. I was quite excited to try their gourmet egg sandwich with Gruyère, aioli and Nueske's applewood-smoked bacon. But you know what? Suddenly this wasn't good enough. My expectations of pork had been raised and there was no going back. Bacon as my only pork outlet -- even if the famed Nueske's -- was a big fat "eh."

Thankfully while in New York City just over a week ago I had several opportunities to have pork in ways beyond bacon... First, I went to Blaue Gans with my cousins, a casual Austrian place from one of NYC's top chefs du jour. There I had the pleasure of eating one of their signatures, called the Jaeger Schnitzel. This is a style of Weiner Schnitzel made with pork, with a mushroom-bacon cream sauce (double the pork!) and some of the most succulent spätzle I've ever had. Y U M. They even served Cologne, Germany's famous Kölsch beer which one would think would be impossible to find outside of that city. Ending with Apfelstrudel, this was truly a great meal, plus it finally got me my non-chop, non-medallion pork fix on American soil.

The very next day in the city I had the pleasure of dining with Dan (see previous blog entry about our LA Korean BBQ experience, which happened to include the excellent spicy pork). For the 2nd year in a row Dan took me to that pleasure palace of soup dumplings, Joe's Shanghai. Woo hoo those dumplings (see photo above) were amazing! You cannot imagine. I'm sure they're somewhere in LA in Monterey Park, though you should know, the best are at Joe's. Fly don't walk, as Dan would say.

So my advice to you is this: try to eat some non-traditional pork cuts when you have the chance, they are really amazing. Sure being in Germany or Austria helps, and if you're in Denmark, I hear the Roast Breast of Pork with Crackling is to die for (fyi, Saveur magazine issue #67 has the recipe). The Red Lion in Silver Lake might have some good options for you too.

And if you count yourself as a person who hasn't yet had soup dumplings and would like to try making them, yes it will take a day, though for you culinary adventurers try this penultimate soup dumpling recipe
by Anita Lo, chef at Annisa in New York, which includes a little explanation of these pork-filled doughy delights.

As for me, I'm probably going to have bacon for dinner at this point (the craving is suddenly unbearable ;). Wishing you all the best in 2008 in food, wine and beyond,

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