I have long said that I could be a vegetarian were it not for the humble pig. The pig as an animal is a wonderful one. Pigs are social, clean (contrary to popular belief), and have been known to exhibit a sense of humor and loyalty. Truly a noble beast, and an appropriate companion animal for someone with enough room. However, it’s also a delicious one. Beef, chicken, seafood, venison, duck, turkey – none have the power to move me the way pork does. Pork lo mein, pork tacos, roast suckling pig, boneless pork ribs, carne adobada, swedish meatballs, bratwurst; if these items are on the menu, they will most likely be found in front of me.
This much-maligned animal has provided the world with protein for over 5000 years. Once domesticated in the Far East, most likely in China, it was quickly dispersed throughout the world, giving rise to an amazing array of meat products. People knew a good thing when they tasted it. China still has the highest per capita consumption of pork in the world, which is no surprise. Boar, the more assertively flavored ancestor of our well-known domestic pig, is hunted and eaten in many parts of the world, including the United States (most notably Texas and Hawai’i). I have always salivated when considering wild boar ragù with pasta from Italy and smoked wild boar sausage or bacon. Fortunately, it is becoming more readily available, thanks to adventurous eaters like me and people who want to explore eating heritage and heirloom varieties of food.
Since domestic pork is a mild meat, it is easily spiced, smoked, and otherwise transformed into some of the world’s most delicious foods. Consider the following: ham, bratwurst, breakfast sausage, andouille, paté de campagne, chorizo, linguica, bacon, loukaniko, liverwurst, prosciutto, salami, pancetta, hocks (indispensable in lentil and pea soups), chicharrón, and the phenomenal variety of other sausages and hams from around the world.
There are the fresh cuts: ribs, tenderloin, roast, belly, chops, liver, etc. While the fresh cuts fail to move me (except ribs in the summer), I am forever in love with the preserved ones.
Then there is SPAM, which is a class unto itself. While visiting the SPAM museum in Austin, Minnesota a few years ago, I realized that this odd, slightly disturbing, poor cousin of paté had helped thousands of soldiers survive World War 2 and thus deserved my respect. It remains a breakfast fixture at our house.
I would like to offer you three recipes today. One uses chorizo, one uses pork chops and the third uses a Portuguese sausage called linguica. Salut!
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Queso Fundido is one of my favorite party foods of all time. Use as much or as little sausage as you like. DO NOT consider making this if you are on a diet, don’t like spicy food or are lactose intolerant or serving lactose intolerant guests. Don’t EVER serve this to a vegan. However, feel free to serve it to me!
1 link chorizo sausage (about 6″ worth), casing removed and crumbled
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese (8 oz.)
1 cup shredded Chihuahua or Monterey Jack cheese (4 oz.)
a generous half cup dairy sour cream
1 4-oz can chopped green chiles, drained
2+ T finely chopped canned chipotles in adobo
chopped green pepper, seeded tomato, sliced black olives and/or sliced jalapenos in escabeche, for garnish (optional)
- Cook chorizo in a small skillet until no longer pink. Drain on paper towels.
- Combine cheeses, sour cream and both chiles in a large bowl; stir in cooked sausage. Spread in a 9″ or so pie pan, gratin dish, cast iron skillet or the like.
- Bake in a 375℉ oven for 20 to 25 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. If desired, top with garnishes. Serve with tortilla chips or strips.
NOTE: I have had this without draining the sausage. The little oil slick around the edges is GREAT if you are not cholesterol challenged. Just sop it up with some good bread. This is also good with celery as a dipper – the shape holds the dip well and the fact that it’s a vegetable makes you feel a little less guilty.
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This is a dish that my mother made time and time again when we were kids. It was one of my favorite pork dishes and remains so to this day. The rice is my favorite part! Be sure to use bone-in pork chops – boneless gets dried out before the rice is done. Despite the name, this 60s-era recipe bears no resemblance to a true risotto. It is an inexpensive, tasty, convenient meal in one dish, and for those reasons alone, deserves our respect.
Pork Chops Risotto
6 bone-in shoulder chops, up to an inch thick (the thicker the better)
3/4 tsp. salt, give or take
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 or 2 small green peppers, seeded and sliced into 1/2″ rings – you need a total of 6 rings
chili sauce (the Heinz kind in the bottle)
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
- Heat oven to 350℉. Spread bottom of 9″ x 13″ baking dish with uncooked rice.
- Trim pork chops of excess (but not all) fat, then slit outside edge 3-4 times; sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. In large skillet over medium-high heat (with a little oil if needed), brown chops on both sides.
- Top the rice with the browned chops. Put one pepper ring on each chop and fill the pepper with about a Tablespoon of chili sauce (I put in enough to fill the ring).
- Into skillet drippings pour 2 1/2 cups of water; stir in soup mix. Bring to a boil, scrape up all the wonderful bits stuck to the pan, then carefully pour into a corner of the baking dish. Cover the pan with foil and bake for one hour, until chops and rice are tender.
NOTE: For the vegans in your life, this works perfectly well if you cut a 14-oz block of tofu into four equal slabs and saute with oil in a pan until crispy. Just make sure that your onion soup mix is vegan.
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This soup, perfect for a cold winter day, goes deep into my soul. The Portuguese side of my family hails from Fall River, Mass., and I have fond memories of visiting my extended family there. Some day I’ll post a recipe for stuffed quahogs that my Mom’s cousin Fran made for us. This recipe is an adaptation of Emeril Lagasse’s. He grew up in Fall River, and his mother passed along this recipe to him.
St. John’s Club Kale Soup
2 T olive oil
1 pound linguica sausage (see note), sliced into 1/2″ thick slices
1 large onion, chopped
6-8 garlic cloves, smashed or minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 14-oz can drained kidney beans
1 14-oz. can drained cannellini beans
4 qts. canned chicken stock or broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 large Idaho (russet) potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch kale (any variety), well washed, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (optional garnish)
1 loaf crusty Portuguese bread (or Italian if you MUST)
- Heat olive oil in a heavy 8-qt. stockpot over med-high heat. Add the linguica and onion, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley and beans and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves, thyme and crushed red pepper. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add the potatoes and kale and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Skim off fat and remove the bay leaves.
- To serve, pour the soup into bowls and garnish with 1 Tblsp of mint. Allow the mint to steep for a minute before serving with a hunk of bread.
NOTE: Linguica is a sausage sold widely in the Northeastern US under the Gaspar’s brand. Look for it in the pork sausage/kielbasa/pork innards section of your grocery store. Linguica is a mild (well, lightly spicy) sausage and chourico is the Portuguese version of chorizo. Add some drained, canned, chopped tomatoes to this dish if you wish when you add the potatoes and kale. You can also substitute chard or spinach for the kale. Just add them about 5 minutes before you serve the soup – they take NO time to cook. Don’t bother trying to veganize this recipe. In this case, pork fat rules…
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