Pork is the chicken of red meat. Like a blank canvass waiting only for the masterly ministrations of an adept chef, it shares with chicken that ability to take on all manner of flavours, from lemon, fresh herbs, honey or mustard to eastern ingredients from soy to rice wine, star anise to cardamom.
Without wishing to get into the old debate about whether pork really is red meat or white meat, and whether it matters either way, what is clear is that for texture and character and the fact that it comes from a four-legged beast rather than a feathered clucking thing, it exists in the same category as beef and lamb, rather than alongside chickens and turkeys.
But what it does have in common with both turkey and chicken is that malleability in the kitchen. And the most versatile part of the pig is arguably the fillet or tenderloin, which is also the cut with the least fat and therefore arguably the healthiest part of the animal.
Like a chicken breast fillet, the pork fillet is a slender cut of meat that gives a creative cook plenty to play with. It cooks quickly, but can also be done very slowly on the braai on low coals, but you have to be careful not to allow it to dry out. Pork tenderloin takes a wet marinade very well, soaking it up and holding that flavour if you brown it quickly before continuing cooking either on the stove top or – as I did this week – finished by roasting in the oven.
The cut is perfect for slicing into medallions for a posh presentation as a dinner party centrepiece, or for cutting into slimmer strips for wok frying with lots of exotic Asian flavours and, say, pak choy, spring onions cut on the diagonal and shiitake mushrooms.
Like a party animal who likes to don the glad rags but sometimes just wants to curl up with a good book and the cat on your lap, it can be adapted to your mood or what you happen to have in the larder.
What a pork fillet does not have is very much flavour of its own accord. The texture is great, soft and not at all stringy (unless you overcook it and let it dry out). The same can be said of a chicken breast – there’s not much going on until you start getting creative with it, but with skill and imagination it can be turned into a work of art. Which is the whole point of having a blank canvass and a bit of creative flair in the brain compartment.
With summer upon us in the southern hemisphere and pork fillet making a relatively light meal compared with heavier red meat cuts, think of it as a versatile choice:
◊ Cut it into thick medallions, marinate and skewer it for cooking on the braai.
◊ Serve a whole pork fillet as a main course for a Christmas dinner, with a sweet mustard sauce to one side and a side vegetable of red cabbage braised in butter with deseeded raisins and toasted almonds.
◊ Make a pork tenderloin alternative to a prego roll.
◊ Seal and then roast a pork fillet, then cut it it thinly to make canapés, draped on bruschetta and dressed with basil pesto and a basil leaf.
◊ Insert a narrow knife carefully from one end of the fillet through to the other end, stuff it with spinach and feta, or any other stuffing you fancy, seal each end with kitchen string, seal in a hot pan and then roast, to be served in medallions.
◊ Gordon Ramsay even makes a stroganoff version. Seehttp://www.theworldofgord.com/
Or try my way, served with noodles after roasting following some creative marination.
Pork fillet in an exotic marinade
1 x 350g pork fillet per serving
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic chopped very finely
2 Tbs pickled ginger chopped very finely
6 capers, finely chopped
3 Tbs coriander leaves, finely chopped
60ml rice wine or rice vinegar
1 Tbs Protea Hill Farm reduction of balsamic lemon vinegar (or use balsamic vinegar with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of honey)
4 baby savoy cabbages, shredded
2 Tbs wok oil (peanut will do, but not olive)
250g noodles, cooked according to the packet instructions (from the Asian section of the supermarket)
Salt and pepper to taste
One pork fillet could serve one person or two, depending on how long ago you had your previous meal, but I served one each. Make a marinade by very finely chopping the garlic, pickled ginger (you by it in jars from speciality stores or your supermarket), capers and coriander leaves and combining with the rice wine or rice vinegar and reduced balsamic lemon vinegar. If you don’t have or can’t find this and are feeling creative, you could reduce balsamic vinegar down in a saucepan with some fresh lemon juice and honey to make your own reasonable facsimile. Or contact Protea Hill Farm on 021 865 2972 or visit www.vinegars.co.za to find out where you can buy their product, some of which was given to me by a friend.
Marinate the whole fillets in this for 2 to 3 hours, covered, in the fridge, but take it out to bring it to room temperature for half an hour before you cook it. Not more though – this is pork after all.
Drain and pat dry wth kitchen paper, but keep the marinade. Preheat oven to 180°C and brown fillets well on all sides. Transfer to an oiled roasting pan and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Turn off, open the oven door slightly and leave to rest.
Sauté the sliced red onion in oil in the same pan in which you browned the porkfillets. Throw in the shredded savoy cabbage and toss for a couple of minutes, then add the remaining marinade and toss for two minutes. This is important because there will be traces of pork in it from the marination process.
Season with salt and pepper and serve alongside pork medallions, with the roasting pan juices poured over the meat. It’s a simply super simple supper, and a pox on those who would outlaw alliteration.
First published in Weekend Argus November 2012