(MCT) — If ever there was a time to go whole hog, Christmas is the holiday to do it.
A beautifully glazed ham will be on many holiday dinner tables, but the traditional ham is not the only pork option.
Pork provides a wealth of choices for holiday meals. There are hams for certain, both cured and fresh, that will serve a crowd. But there are a wide variety of roasts that will serve any size gathering.
Pork loin, pork butt and even small pork tenderloins are excellent dinner options. Pork sausages, from kielbasa to hot Italian, work well for more casual gatherings too.
Pork is seasonal at this time of year, and while all meat prices are high these days, pound for pound pork remains more affordable than beef, particularly the high-end cuts of beef like tenderloin and rib roast that are favored at the holidays.
Denny Gray, owner of Al’s Quality Market in Bar-berton, Ohio, and a specialty butcher and sausage maker, said pork is always a big seller at the holidays. Many folks stick to ham or sausages for their gatherings, particularly those who are keeping ethnic traditions.
But the rest of the hog offers plenty of options too.
“Fresh ham is quite often overlooked,” Gray said. While it is the same cut of meat of traditional hams, fresh ham is neither cured nor smoked. Think of it as a roasted leg of pork.
“Fresh ham tastes like a big pork chop,” Gray said. “It is white meat and lean.”
One of the reasons home cooks may not want to take it on is its size: a fresh ham will weigh in the vicinity of 22 pounds. Even with its hock removed, it’s still an 18-pound piece of meat, more than many cooks want to deal with.
Gray, however, said a good butcher will be willing to debone one, and even cut it down to a smaller size for a customer request.
It’s a boneless fresh ham that Cleveland’s Iron Chef Michael Symon uses to make porchetta, the traditional Italian pork roast that is thin-sliced into sandwiches. However, it is just as easily served as a main dish and will serve a dozen people at a Christmas gathering.
Gray said a crown roast of pork, made by shaping together pork rib roasts into a crown shape, is popular at Christmas and New Year’s, when many cooks like to stuff the center with sauerkraut.
Vermont cooking teacher Molly Stevens, in her book “All About Roasting,” offers an alternative to the crown roast, which she calls the honor guard roast of pork.
Crown roasts can be difficult to fit into a roasting pan and don’t always cook evenly because of their shape. Stuffing the center only makes even roasting more problematic, she writes.
Rather than curving the roasts into a crown shape, Stevens arranges them side by side in a roasting pan and interlaces their rib bones to give them the appearance of two rows of honor guards with their swords raised and crossed to form a pathway.
For a smaller crowd, don’t overlook pork tenderloins, which can be pounded, stuffed, rolled and roasted for a holiday presentation. Because they are small and lean, a pair to serve six will roast in under an hour.
Another cut Gray recommends is the pork butt, which, despite its name, is actually the shoulder. Often this cut, due to its size, is used for slow cooking and shredding for dishes like pulled pork. But Gray said with its bone removed, it is a fine cut for slow-roasting until it is falling-apart tender.
Gray said cooks should not be afraid to ask their butcher to make special cuts and trims, or to debone large portions to make them easier to work with.
He likes to debone the butt, season it with salt, pepper, Hungarian paprika and garlic powder, and then tie it up and roast it for 20 to 25 minutes per pound. “It’s phenomenal,” Gray said.
Here’s his recipe, along with a recipe for a stuff pork tenderloin that will help you go whole hog this holiday.
HUNGARIAN PORK SHOULDER
1 pork butt (shoulder), boned, about 8 lbs.
Salt and pepper, to taste
Have your butcher debone the pork butt for you. Season it liberally with salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder on all sides.
Tie up roast using butcher’s twine.
Cover and roast at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes per pound (about 3 hours).
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
— Denny Gray, Al’s Quality Market, Barberton, Ohio
STUFFED PORK TENDERLOIN
2 pork tenderloins, about 2 ½ lbs. total weight)
1 lb. bulk mild pork sausage
6 cups dried bread cubes
1 ½ cups low sodium chicken or beef broth
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 to 2 tbsp. chopped fresh sage leaves
Leaves of 1 sprig fresh thyme, minced
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
With a sharp knife, remove silverskin from each tenderloin, then slice each tenderloin lengthwise to butterfly it, being careful not to cut completely through the meat. You don’t want to cut the tenderloin in two.
Working one at a time, place each butterflied tenderloin between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap, place on a cutting board, and using a meat mallet, pound until meat is an even thickness of less than ½ inch.
Season inside and out with salt and pepper and set aside.
In a skillet over medium heat, brown sausage until no longer pink, breaking up with spatula until it is even brown crumbles. Drain.
In a large bowl, combine bread cubes, cooked sausage, celery, onion, sage, thyme and parsley. Mix well. Add broth, ½ cup at a time, mixing stuffing after each addition and breaking up bread as you go until stuffing is soft and holds together well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Fill the center of each tenderloin lengthwise with stuffing, overlapping meat to close seam and tucking in ends. Use cotton butcher’s twine to tie up tenderloin, making about five or six ties down the length of the tenderloin.
Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to a very large skillet or a roasting pan set over two burners on stovetop. Set burners to medium-high and sear tenderloins on all sides, turning them carefully so stuffing does not come loose.
When brown on all sides, cover roaster with foil (or transfer to roasting pan if using a skillet) and roast in 375-degree oven, for 30 minutes. Uncover and roast an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until internal temperature of thickest part of pork reaches 145 degrees when checked on an instant-read thermometer. Be careful to check temperature of meat closest to stuffing, as this area tends to cook more slowly than the outside.
When done, remove from oven. Cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove twine. Slice into circles and serve.
Makes 6 servings.
Note: Pork tenderloins are small, averaging about 1 to 1 ½ pounds each. However, with stuffing, each should serve three adults.
— Lisa Abraham
©2012 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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