Following on from yesterday’s post on cuts of beef, today’s looks at cuts of pork.
It occurred to me that one response to these diagrams might well be, ‘So what?’ The dominance of supermarkets and closure of so many butcher shops over the past 30 to 40 years means that we are given a certain number of packaged cuts and that’s it. It’s a no-brainer.
However, the pig is an animal that can be eaten from head to tail. Knowing about the different cuts and their cooking methods will give you more confidence to ask for new cuts if you have a butcher or an ethnic market nearby.
What follows are links to diagrams and cuts for three different countries: Britain, the United States and France.
It seems to me that the British use more of the pig around the shoulder than the Americans do (see US diagram below).
P J and J Moore Butchers have a good diagram (scroll to the bottom of the page). One of my favourite cuts of meat is the collar, which, when boiled, gives an unctuous ham result. The British would call collar a bacon joint, but it tastes just like the boiled ham my grandmother used to prepare many years ago. The collar stock is worth keeping because it turns into aspic. Absolutely lovely. Any Americans living in Britain would enjoy it. And it’s very inexpensive. It should come with a good rim of fat. Cook it with the fat (to get the aspic) and trim it after cooking.
Cook’s Info has a very good page with alternative names for parts of the pig that will be useful when visiting the butcher. I say that, because when I last went to buy ham hocks, ours asked me if I wanted the foreleg or the hindleg. ‘Uhhh,’ was my uneducated response! I walked out with two of both, although the hindleg definitely has more meat as you can see in the diagram. I would have taken more hindleg, but the Chinese families had already bought them. Our butcher said, ‘You have to get here early on Thursdays for hocks.’ Duly noted.
Speaking of butchers, if you want a professional perspective on all things pork, Pork for Butchers has what looks like a basic diagram until you click on one of the pork sections and drill down into the various cuts. You’ll then see a complete description of how they cut that piece of meat for the customer.
The National Pork Board, which markets The Other White Meat® brand, has a helpful diagram. Run your cursor over the pictures to see what part of the pig the meat comes from and a brief description of the cut. Click on the picture and you will be transferred to a new page with more information on that cut of meat.
I shall now illustrate the importance of diagrams. My mother used to make the best country-style ribs. The British don’t have that type of cut. A butcher will have to prepare that for you. A couple of years ago, I was desperate for country-style ribs because they are so tender and meaty. I hadn’t seen these diagrams at that point and hadn’t a clue as to where the meat came from. I found a photo of what I wanted on a meat forum and took it into our butcher. He said, ‘These come from the loin, near the shoulder. The usual ribs come from the side.’ The side is the area around the belly.
Country-style ribs are really inexpensive and filling. I would highly recommend them to my British readers who have access to a butcher. If I remember rightly, six thick ribs cost £10 in 2014. I gave them a spicy rub, sliced an onion and put both into a Le Creuset pot with a lid, baking them for an hour at 170° C. I took them out, drained the fat and poured barbecue sauce over them, returning them to the oven — uncovered — for another 30 – 40 minutes at 160° C. Absolutely lovely and melt-in-the-mouth tender.
Clove Garden has an excellent page on every pork cut you can imagine, complete with photos and helpful descriptions. The text for country-style ribs says:
These are made from the rib section at the shoulder end of the whole loin. The spine is removed but leaving the feather bones above and the ribs below. The meaty part above the ribs is cut leaving half with the ribs and half with the feather bones. The two sections sliced crosswise about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick and packed together. It is a meaty and economical cut for the budget conscious.
It should be noted that Modern Farmer‘s Pork 101 says differently:
“Basically, it’s from the brisket area of the pig, if pigs had brisket — it’s basically a bone-in brisket,” says [Tom] Mylan [a butcher]. “You get the front part of the spareribs with a lot of meat.” The country-style spareribs contain a combination of dark and light meat.
Interesting. I think I would stick with the shoulder meat.
The Clove Garden page is extremely useful if one wants to step out of one’s comfort zone. It discusses where one can buy these cuts in Southern California.
One useful item for ballotines of pork loin is caul, a lacy, thin, fatty membrane. The British and French often wrap pork loin or rabbit ballotines in caul. The caul not only leaves the meat intact but also adds necessary fat to keep it moist. Clove Garden says:
It is held highly desirable for a number of European recipes as a wrapper that will automatically baste what it is wrapped around. The photo specimen, laid out, not stretched, on a 12 x 18 inch cutting board, weighed 4-3/8 ounces. It was purchased from the freezer cases of a large Asian market in Los Angeles.
I remember the days when pigs’ feet (trotters), either fresh or pickled, were available in virtually every US supermarket. They began disappearing in the 1980s. A good chef can cook them, remove the bone, stuff them with a pork or rabbit farce, braise them and serve with an unctuous sauce. I had them in London 15 years ago — one of my most memorable dinners ever. My American readers might appreciate this British recipe for stuffed trotters, which I’ll have to try. You can substitute other stuffings for the black pudding and chestnut.
Pigs’ trotters are difficult to work with, so I normally just boil them for a delicious aspic-like stock. I highly recommend them. They are also very reasonably priced. Our butcher gave them to me free once.
As with beef, the French also have different cuts of pork.
Clove Garden has an excellent page with four illustrations — North America, British, English and French — of pork cuts. This requires a lot of study and one will learn a lot.
Le Porc, which represents French pork producers, makes understanding French cuts easier, because whilst there are no translations, you can see photographs of what the end products look like when you click on a section.
Pork roasts in France look very different to British ones. They are neat, tidy, small and round — without crackling. They have just enough fat on them to keep the meat moist in the oven. This is very disappointing for the average Briton. What fun is a joint of pork without a thick rim of fat for crackling? That’s the best part!
The perfect crackling – recipe
It seems the only place one can get decent crackling is in Britain, and, even then, you won’t get it from most supermarket joints. Industrialised processing methods don’t produce pigs with enough fat.
If you want perfect crackling, you really need to specially order your pork joint from a butcher or buy it from an independent free range producer. Ideally, the rim of fat should be an inch thick. We ask our butcher to order ours from Orchard Farm Pork.
I use the Gary Rhodes method which he explained in his television show for the BBC back in the 1990s.
1/ Carefully cut off the crackling fat from the roasting joint, leaving just a thin rim of fat for the joint.
2/ Put the joint in a roasting pan and put the crackling fat in a separate, smaller roasting pan with sides.
3/ Sprinkle the crackling with a lot of salt on both sides, ensuring that it gets in between the cuts on the skin side. Rub the salt in so that it penetrates the fat whilst cooking.
4/ Put the crackling in five to 10 minutes before the roast, as it will need extra time to render and become crispy.
5/ Have an old teacup on hand when you drain rendered fat off the crackling. You will probably need to do this two or three times. A teacup is better than a bowl because it has a handle. Reserve some of the fat for roast potatoes to accompany your roast. Leave the rest of fat to cool. You can put it in a container later, preferably with a lid, and refrigerate for future use.
6/ Check the crackling when you take the roast out to rest. It might need more time. If so, leave it in the oven with the heat on at roasting temperature.
7/ Remove the crackling before you carve the meat. It will need time to cool. Make sure it is set aside from humid parts of the kitchen.
8/ High-quality crackling generally needs prodding with a knife to split into strips. If that does not work, use sturdy kitchen scissors with curved edges to cut it into pieces.
9/ When serving, place crackling portions away from gravy so that they do not get soggy.
10/ To reheat any leftover crackling, place the strips or pieces uncovered on a piece of aluminium foil or baking tray. Make sure either has sides (fold up foil to create edges) to collect any excess fat. Warm up in an oven heated to 150° C for 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool for five minutes before serving.