Deliver Help and Hope to Hungry Seniors This Thanksgiving Season. Donate

The Perks of Pork

Healthy, tasty, cheap &#8212 from chops to roasts, this little piggy is surprisingly lean

En español |Best-selling cookbook author Michael Ruhlman remembers when he first fell in love with pork. He was a senior at Duke University, traveling the back roads of North Carolina, when he stopped at a shack with smoke billowing out the back. "Got my first plate of genuiiiine eastern Carolina barbecue," Ruhlman, now 48, recalls. "Life was never the same."

Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter.

Americans share his passion for pork: Restaurants in 2011 featured 7 percent more pork dishes than they did the previous year, and pork production is up 2 percent. It's a craving that dates back to our ham-loving forefathers, says James Villas, author of Pig: King of the Southern Table. The first domesticated pigs arrived in North America in 1539 and quickly became a staple. Colonial Virginians ate so much pork that 18th-century writer William Byrd said they were prone to grunt rather than speak.

For modern waist-conscious diners, pork can be a healthy protein choice, as lean as chicken or fish. Several cuts, including rib and loin chops, and sirloin and top loin roast, meet USDA guidelines for lean meat, with fewer than 10 grams of fat per serving. The healthiest cut is ultralean pork tenderloin, says Joy Bauer, nutrition expert for the Today show. Lean cuts of pork cook quickly, though, so keep a watchful eye.

Pork Chops With Apple and Arugula

Adapted from Jeffrey Saad's Global Kitchen: Recipes Without Borders

Serves 2

  • 2 pork chops
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 medium green apple, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cups arugula, washed and dried

1. Rinse and pat the pork chops dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper.

2. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the oil, heating until it just starts to haze. Add the pork chops and sauté until golden on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Closely monitor the heat so the pork chops get a deep golden brown but the bits at the bottom of the pan don't burn — they are the flavor foundation for your sauce. Remove the pork chops and set aside.

3. Add the shallots, chopped apple, and garlic to the same pan. Cook for 2 minutes or until golden. Use tongs to scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the brandy and let boil, reducing the liquid by half. Add the apple juice and rosemary, and boil for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and boil (reduce) until you have a nice saucy consistency. Add the butter. Turn off the heat and stir just until the butter is melted. Add the arugula.

4. Place each pork chop on a plate. Pour the sauce with the arugula on top of each chop.

Next: Grilled veggies in a salad. »

Grilled Vegetable Salad

Adapted from Big Night In by Domenica Marchetti

Serves 8 to 10

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the grilled vegetables:

  • 1 (1-pound) eggplant, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices
  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • Vegetable oil or high-heat cooking spray for greasing the grill grate
  • 2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise
  • 2 yellow crookneck squash, halved lengthwise
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 medium-to-large red onions, quartered
  • 2 dozen large button mushrooms, ends trimmed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • Wooden skewers, soaked for 30 minutes in cold water and drained
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

1. To make the dressing: Combine the vinegars, garlic, salt and black pepper in a bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the oil to achieve an emulsified dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and let the flavors blend while you prepare the vegetables.

2. Layer the eggplant slices in a colander in the sink and sprinkle salt over each layer. Place a plate over the slices and weigh them down with a heavy object. Let the eggplant drain for 30 to 60 minutes. Wipe the slices dry with paper towels.

3. Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush the grate with vegetable oil or spray with high-heat cooking spray.

4. Brush both sides of the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Skewer the peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes separately to ensure they will cook properly. Brush the skewered vegetables liberally with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.

5. Place the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash on the grill grate and grill, turning frequently, about 12 minutes for the yellow squash, 15 minutes for the zucchini and 17 minutes for the eggplant, or until they are charred here and there on the outside and softened somewhat but still a little firm. Transfer the eggplant and squashes to a platter or baking dish.

6. Place the skewered vegetables on the grill grate and grill, turning frequently, about 5 minutes for the tomatoes, 10 minutes for the mushrooms and 14 to 15 minutes for the onions and peppers. The vegetables should be charred in places on the outside and softened somewhat, but still a little firm. Remove the vegetables from the grill as they finish cooking and place them on a large platter. Set the platters of vegetables near a cutting board.

7. Cut the eggplant disks into quarters, and cut the zucchini and yellow squashes crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Place them in a bowl large enough to hold all of the grilled vegetables. Remove the skewered vegetables from the skewers. Cut the peppers into bite-size pieces, and cut the mushrooms into quarters. Put them in the bowl, along with the onions and tomatoes. Scatter the chopped basil over the vegetables.

8. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and fold gently to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes, or refrigerate the salad until thoroughly chilled and serve cold.

Note: This salad is best prepared several hours or up to a day in advance so the vegetables take on the flavor of the dressing.

Next: Creole ham, sausage and shrimp jambalaya. »

Creole Ham, Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya

Adapted from Pig: The King of the Southern Table by James Villas (John Wiley & Sons Inc.)

Serves 6

  • 2 ounces salt pork, cut into pieces
  • 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound cooked ham, chopped
  • 1/2 pound spicy smoked sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 pound fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • Tabasco sauce

1. In a heavy 8-quart pot or casserole, cook the salt pork over low heat until all the fat is rendered, then add the onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic and stir until the vegetables soften, 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Add the ham, sausage, salt, black pepper, thyme, cayenne and bay leaves and continue stirring for about 10 minutes longer.

3. Add the rice and water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.

4. Add the shrimp, stir well, increase the heat to moderate, and stir with a fork until the rice begins to dry out and is fluffy, about 15 minutes.

5. Serve the jambalaya hot, with Tabasco on the side.

Next: Pulled pork BBQ makes a tasty dish. »

North Carolina Eastern-Style Chopped or Pulled 'Cue

Adapted from Pig: King of the Southern Table by James Villas (John Wiley & Sons Inc.)

Serves at least 10

  • One small (1-1/2 to 2-pound) bag hickory wood chips
  • One 10-pound bag charcoal briquettes
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One 9- to 10-pound pork shoulder butt (all skin and fat left on)

1. In a pan of water, soak 6 handfuls of the chips for 45 minutes.

2. Open one bottom and one top vent on a kettle grill, place an aluminum drip pan in the bottom of the grill, stack charcoal briquettes evenly around the pan (not in the center) and ignite the coals. When the coals are ashen (after 30 to 45 minutes), sprinkle 2 handfuls of the soaked chips evenly over the hot coals. Place the grate on the grill about 6 inches over the coals.

3. In a nonreactive bowl, combine the vinegars, sugar, red pepper flakes, Tabasco, salt and pepper and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the sauce is well-blended. When the coals are ready on the grill, position the butt fat side up on the grate over indirect heat, mop it with the sauce, close the lid, and cook for 3 hours, mopping the meat every hour and replenishing the coals and chips as they burn up. Turn the butt over, close the lid and cook until the meat is very tender, 2 to 3 hours longer, mopping every hour and replenishing the coals and chips as needed.

4. Transfer the butt to a chopping board, remove and discard excess fat, and either chop the meat and crisp skin coarsely or pull into shreds. Transfer the meat to a roasting pan, drizzle about 1 cup of the sauce over the top, toss well, cover with foil and keep warm.

5. To serve, mound the barbecue on plates or hamburger buns and serve with the remaining sauce on the side.

Next: Thai-style pork with veggies. »

Thai-Style Pork With Bell Peppers, Cucumbers and Tomatoes

Adapted from Real Thai: The Best of Thailand's Regional Cooking by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books).

This could be served Asian-style as part of a rice-centered meal, as a one-dish supper over rice or couscous, or with noodles, tortillas or pita bread.

Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1/4 pound pork, thinly sliced across the grain
  • 1 cup small cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 cup diced colored bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup water or chicken stock
  • 1 small onion, sliced lengthwise into thick wedges
  • 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • About 3/4 cup cucumber slices*
  • 6 to 8 cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1. Place a large, deep skillet or a wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to cover the pan. When a bit of garlic sizzles, add the rest of the garlic and toss until it is fragrant and just beginning to turn golden (15 seconds). Add the pork and spread it out into a single layer. Let it cook until the edges change color, and then toss it well.

2. Add the cauliflower florets and bell peppers and toss until they are shiny and beginning to soften. Add the water and let it cook away, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion, fish sauce, sugar and salt and toss to combine. Add the cucumber and toss again until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are tender but still crisp. Add the tomatoes, toss once, and transfer to a serving plate. Serve hot or warm.

*Peel cucumber, scooping out seeds if they are large. Slice crosswise on the diagonal into big-bite-size pieces.

You may also like: Where's the beef?

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.

AARP Membership

Discounts & Benefits

    Next Article

    Read This