I want to marry pork. The crisped, buttery edge of a seared chop is the epicurean equivalent to a money shot; you can't get more delicious. My esteemed colleague Joseph Byrd wrote a series of articles in this paper pointing out the cultivated leanness and resulting tastelessness of supermarket pork, which is damned not only by its lack of succulence, but by all the other locavore no-no's: terrible animal living conditions, extinction of heritage breeds, dependence on fossil-fuel-transported grain, and antibiotic and hormone-filled meat. It don't taste good and it ain't good for you or Ma Nature.
Imagine my ecstatic squeals, then, upon discovering the Co-op now carries local organic heritage-breed pork!!! Butchers Doug and Matt took me in the walk-in to check out the hanging whole sides, just waiting to be carved into chops ’n' roasts. We bought three pounds of belly and smoked some major bacon. We also tried some chops, and they were the best I've had in Humboldt: sweet with porky flavor and plumply fatted. I especially appreciate having organic pork fat available to render into lard -- I love baking and cooking with lard, and pesticides concentrate in fat cells. If I am rendering fat, organic is the only way I want to go.
I was so chuffed that FINALLY someone locally is producing such excellent pork (I love our grass-fed beef, but c'mon guys, branch out a little!) that I decided to visit the producers, to wit, Alexandre Farms in Crescent City. Producers of organic eggs and prom queens (congrats, Vanessa!), Alexandre Farms is a great example of one of the North Coast's most unique assets: small family farms that keep our environment and food healthy, while keeping local money local.
Vanessa Alexandre is only 16. SIXTEEN. What have I done with my life? Anyway, she breeds a particularly delectable heritage breed called Tamworth ("bacon-type," to quote their website). They are primarily grazing pigs, and are "finished" on an organic corn, barley and milk slurry for the last month of their porcine lives. Her pigs are sooo cute frolicking away in their sunny fields, I couldn't wait to eat them! You are supposed to care about grassfeeding because it makes for more nutritious meat, grain feed uses a lot of resources to produce and transport, and pigs on industrial feedlots look pretty effin' miserable. Vanessa finishes her Tamworths on grain feed to fatten ’em up -- I personally am willing to sacrifice the fossil fuels used for grain-finishing because I like fattier meat, as long as it is from non-GMO-fed, antibiotic-free, pasture-raised animals.
If you demand entirely grass-fed pork, which is leaner and even more eco-friendly, Shaile Pec-Crouse from Tule Fog Farm tells me they are off to New Zealand to select a mouth-watering herd of Kune Kune pigs, which are able to subsist entirely on grass. Their pork should be available by 2012 at the Farmers' Market and through their meat CSA (that's Community Supported Agriculture for the informed). They're soliciting pre-orders to pay for this project, so do 'em a favor and buy a ham to be delivered in 18 months. Speaking of the CSA, I am stoked to hear about Tule Fog Farm's righteous meat project. It's a great way of supporting ethically and locally raised grassfed meat. Not just beef and pork, either; they hook you up with turkey, chicken, mutton, a whole lotta meats. And you don't even have to own a deep freezer -- they'll hold your meat for you until you need it.
We are so lucky to have so many local producers of organic and/or grass-fed, hormone-free dairy and meat products -- sometimes it is easy to take it for granted. I was saddened to hear that the Co-op may not continue carrying Alexandre Kids' pork because customers are balking at the slightly higher prices. Isn't it worth paying a little extra to get food that is healthier, locally produced and (most vitally) tastes better? After the devastation perpetrated on our local dairies by the monstrous Rich Ghilarducci, it is important for us as a community to dig a little and show our support for local ethically raised meat and dairy. It will vanish if we don't, as it has in most of the country. Do you want to be stuck having no choice except flavorless feedlot hormone-pumped gristle trucked in from the Midwest? Fellow Humboldtians, do your good deed for the day and slow roast some pork belly!
Or fry some chops:
Easy One-Pan Chops
for 2 people:
2 bone-in pork chops (I entreat you to buy Alexandre)
1 T. bacon fat or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
3/4 cup chicken stock or water
1/2 cup apricot jam
2 t. balsamic vinegar
optional: 1 t. tarragon, dry or fresh
1 t. salt
additional salt and pepper, to taste
Heat up a large cast iron pan over medium heat until the handle is hot.
Add the fat or oil, then lay the chops down.
Sear until edges are crispy, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Remove chops to plate.
Reduce heat to low and let pan cool for a minute or two, using a spatula to loosen yummy pork bits from the pan.
Add onion and stir for 4-5 minutes. Whisk in other ingredients to combine.
Put chops back in pan and tightly cover.
Leaving heat on low, cook until just done. For 1 1/2 in. thick chops, it takes me about 20 minutes, but start checking at 15. Make a tiny slit in the thickest part; the meat should be only slightly pinkish in the middle.
Remove chops and let rest for 5 minutes before serving; meanwhile raise the heat a bit and reduce the sauce to thicken a bit.
Check seasoning and serve. Relish the porky goodness.