Q&A: Chef dishes on the countless culinary possibilities with pork
May 15, 2019
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Classic comfort food dishes such as pulled pork barbecue and collard greens made with bacon have made pork a consumer favorite. Nearly 60% of meat eaters eat pork at least once a week, according to a Meat Consumer Segmentation survey conducted earlier this year by Midan Marketing. In addition to old favorites, dishes that incorporate the protein in new ways can boost its appeal to an even wider swath of diners, including those who are looking to eat healthier or increase their intake of plant-focused meals. Lean cuts like tenderloin are perfect for diners looking to eat lighter, while lesser-known cuts can attract customers looking to venture out of their culinary comfort zone. Thirty-eight percent of meat eaters say it is fun to explore new meat products, according to Midan Marketing's survey data.

At his New Orleans restaurants Boucherie and Bourrée, chef Nathanial Zimet puts pork on the menu in many different ways – from classic boudin sausages to a take on pastrami made from pork collar. In this Q&A, Zimet discusses how chefs can incorporate pork into dishes that appeal to a wide range of diners.

Interest in plant-forward dining continues to grow among U.S. consumers, but growing appetites for vegetables and grains don't have to diminish demand for meat. Technomic’s 2019 Beef and Pork Consumer Trend Report points out that varying portion sizes can help pork fit into plant-forward dishes. What are some ways to incorporate pork into dishes that appeal to diners who also want to eat more plants? 

There are plenty of ways we can incorporate pork as an ingredient into dishes that will still appeal to diners who are looking to eat more vegetables. Pork can provide a richer flavor to an otherwise simple recipe, even when it is not the center of the plate. Our collard greens at Boucherie in New Orleans are a standout dish that are a perfect example. We incorporate bacon into the collard greens and the rich saltiness we get out of the smaller portion of bacon maximizes the flavor and sets this dish apart. Another excellent way to incorporate pork as an ingredient into a dish is utilizing pork stock, which provides an intense meat essence and richness to help season vegetables in a more flavorful manner. We also often braise pork over beans, grains or vegetables that will become other aspects of a dish, and we add cured, smoked pieces of pork into beans for a smoky baked beans barbecue side dish. Thinking of ways to add pork ingredients to enhance a basic dish is the key.

Pork's profile is also rising among health-conscious diners. What are some cuts and preparations that play up the lighter side of pork? 

Pork can be a great option for those trying to make healthier eating decisions, but it’s important to understand the various cut choices and cooking methods. Pork loin and tenderloin tend to be the leanest cuts available. A pork chop is also a nice healthy alternative, which can be prepared with minimal fat and, especially if still attached to the bone, it can be very flavorful and satisfying while providing a tender bite. I like to keep our menus fresh by changing dishes on the menu every other month based on seasonal ingredients and incorporating a different variety of pork. We also offer nightly specials that allow us to showcase our creativity and use every bit of the hog. As for preparations, there are different techniques to consider when cooking a pork dish. Smoking is my preference when it comes to pork. When smoked, the pork is cooked long, low and slow, with the fat dripping away. Another method is sous vide, which can help a not-so-tender cut of meat be much more delicate.

Uncommon cuts of meat are becoming more popular, especially among millennials. What are some uses for lesser-known pork cuts such as pork collar and cracklings?

In Louisiana we have a rich culture of whole animal butchering. While “Boucherie” means “butcher shop” in French, in Southern Louisiana it means a large party where a village or family gets together and butchers a whole hog. Everyone has their different specialty which can also vary based on cultural influence. But again, we want to use every part as best as we can. I take a unique twist on flank steak and make a pork flank steak. It’s an unusual cut of pork – and it’s amazing, tender and mouthwatering. The pork collar or coppa has a lot of marbling in it compared to any other piece of the pig. The marbling lends great flavor to a delicious Jewish-inspired coppa pastrami, which brings me back to my roots. While many people are using lesser-known pork cuts in different ways, I rely heavily on technique. The best way to do this is getting back to the basics. Whether you’re using pork belly, the jowl or the collar, there is nothing that compares to properly using heat and a knife.

While pork fits in with several current trends such as plant-forward and health-centric, many consumers still gravitate to it as a classic protein. In fact, 75% of diners surveyed by Technomic for its 2019 Beef and Pork Consumer Trend Report agree that pork dishes are comfort food. What are some dishes that showcase the classic, comfort food appeal of pork? 

Here in Louisiana, boudin is a popular comfort food. We make three different pork boudins between Boucherie and Bourrée. Our boudin links and boudin balls are stuffed full of tender, flavorful pork. Since we butcher whole hogs frequently at Boucherie, we want to utilize every single part of the animal as best we can. We also take pieces of meat that may typically be tougher, cook them low and slow overnight with pork fat and as a result, we have soft, tasty carnitas. Our previously mentioned collard greens are also the ultimate comfort food. Melt-in-your-mouth homemade bacon mixed with the earthy collard greens results in a dish that warms you up and feels good.

All opinions expressed in this piece are those of chef Nathaniel Zimet. He was the recipient of a StarChefs Rising Stars Award in 2012 after opening Boucherie in 2009 with a menu of progressive Southern cuisine featuring house-cured, smoked and aged meats.

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