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The Perks of Pork

Healthy, tasty, cheap — 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."

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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. »

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