Keep it simple when choosing pork pairings.
if you want to dress it up
Back in 2008, then-Sen. Obama caused a flap when he compared John McCain’s presidential campaign to “lipstick on a pig.” Feisty liberals shuddered with pleasure and Sarah Palin, as usual, looked confused. Let us be clear, pigs don’t need no gussying up! They’re beautiful and tasty creatures just as God made them but if you must play dress-up, stick to just a few modest accessories.
It’s amazing to think that the Mennonite and Amish lifestyle, after so many years as the butt of bad jokes (see Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise”), is now somehow hip. Organic farming practices, locally sourced products and kick-ass beards are all the rage in Philly. The next time you’re in the mood for pork chops, grab a quart of Kauffman’s freshly pressed preservative-free apple cider from Lancaster County Dairy (51 N. 12th St. 215.922.2317), add a little brown sugar, reduce it on the stove top until it’s a lacquer-like glaze, then pour it on your pork.
The Pennsylvania Dutch have been making sauerkraut and pairing it with pork for hundreds of years. Making kraut at home is a relatively simple process that involves shredded cabbage, salt, a dark basement and friendly fermentation. You could risk paralytic botulism and give it a go yourself or you could go the safer, tastier route and leave it to the experts at AJ Pickle Patch (12th and Arch streets. 215.627.8067) in the Reading Terminal Market. We may sound a bit fixated on these pickling professionals but we defy you to find a more tart and tasty sauerkraut in Philly.
No culture is quite as enamored with our porcine friends as the Vietnamese. They roll them next to shrimp in summer rolls, mold their ears and face meat into country-style pates and even breed cute little pot-bellied versions of the bacon-making big boys. At Ba Le Bakery (606 Washington Ave. 215.389.4350), their love for pork manifests itself in sandwich form. Their “special combination” banh mi is pig to the fourth power with pork roll, ham and pulled pork on a crispy baguette smeared with a rich pig liver pate. Pork as a condiment? Heinz has got nothing on that.
Along with their regular line-up of craft beers, Philadelphia Brewing Company (2423-2439 Amber St. 215.427.BREW) brews special one-off and seasonal beers in a special 60-barrel horizontal fermentation tank—known as “the pig.” This tank, painted to look like a giant porky, is responsible for one of their most famous seasonal select ales. The Fleur de Lehigh—coming mid-March—is a Belgian yeast-fermented beer brewed with chamomile, rhubarb, ginger, rose hips and lemongrass yielding a highly aromatic summertime brew. At the first sign of spring, we’re scouring the city to find this draft-only brew at a gastropub known for their pork dishes—Sidecar Bar, South Philadelphia Tap Room or Resurrection Ale House—and asking them to pour us one from the pig.
There’s been a renaissance as of late along the country’s “oldest Italian-American business district.” New shops and restaurants are blossoming along the corridor but the good people at Mancuso’s Cheese Shop (1902 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.389.1817) are nowhere near newcomers; they’ve been supplying the neighborhood with quality food products for more than 70 years. Their sharp provolone, imported from Northern Italy, is a cheese that will bite you back and goes perfect on a roast pork sandwich with some broccoli rabe.
Pulled pork barbecue is a thing of beauty and easily made at home. Toss a small pork shoulder in a crock pot with a couple beers and let it ride. In a few hours, silky ribbons of pork will be easily pulled from the bone. If you’re not into the sickly sweet, corn-syrupy, store-bought barbecue sauce, try the tangy Worcestershire-heavy Pub & Kitchen (1946 Lombard St. 215.545.0350. thepubandkitchen.com) version available only at Green Aisle Grocery (1618 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.465.1411). ■
If you're too lazy to chew it, read on...
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More than 20 years ago, the National Pork Board started pushing the leanest, cleanest parts of its little piggies with the slogan, “Pork. The Other White Meat,” and the American people—including my mother—totally bought it. And then, for almost the next 20 years, most of us—you, me, our mothers, omnivores all over the country—dutifully ate our tenderloins and center loin chops. They tasted only mildly of pork and had the texture and chewiness of dishtowels, but dammit, they lived up to the slogan and we felt good about eating them. Only, I didn’t. I was unsatisfied and confused. How could the pork we ate for breakfast—crunchy-tender, salty, smoky, juicy, soul-satisfying bacon—be so different from the bland, tough, utilitarian pork we ate for dinner and still come from the same animal? I longed for something more. I wanted bacon—or at least the magical je ne sais quoi of bacon—every time I ate pork. It wasn’t until I was more or less grown up that I would discover—at a...
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