“Moist & Tender” pork: a good argument for local food

so much salt

Something annoying is happening to fresh pork: it’s all labeled “Moist and Tender”.  Isn’t that nice.  Who wouldn’t want pork that’s “moist and tender” instead of tough and leathery?  Here’s another thing Moist and Tender means: high salt.

It’s a sad commentary on how our lack of cooking skills is changing our food supply.  The problem started with the perception that all pork is high fat* and therefore should be avoided.  FACT: while bacon, ribs or products like hot dogs can be high fat, regular fresh pork isn’t much different from other red meats in fat content, especially if you choose the leaner cuts and trim visible fat.  But nevertheless, pork comes from pigs, and they appear to be fat, so our preconceived notions are set.

Ages ago, pre-diet hysteria, you could throw pork chops on the grill and get great results with little fuss.  The natural fat content prevented them from drying out.  Post-diet hysteria, pork producers started breeding leaner pigs with less fat content in meat.  Result: old easy cooking methods resulted in dried out, tough pork.

Enter “enhanced” pork, or “Moist and Tender”: fresh pork is shot up with a salt solution that plumps up the meat so that you almost can’t over cook it.  The salt solution holds water in the meat.  You get a chewy juicy pork chop courtesy of salt water, not the fat that used to give pork it’s flavor and texture.  I’ve (stupidly) bought these products on occasion and always hated the results: the cooked meat was a strange texture with little flavor.  Never Again in my house.  I check labels now.

Speaking of labels, check out the sodium content on the label in the photo.  One small serving of “fresh” pork has 350 mg of sodium, as much as 2 oz of potato chips or 3 slices of bacon.  And that’s before you add a seasoning mix, marinade or your own table salt.  This Makes Me Mad.

What to do?  Look for local pork, packaged and sold by local pork producers.  Fortunately, I can get Coleman Ranch pork where I live (no they don’t pay me to say that).  A small locavore food shop carries pork from another nearby producer.  It’s east to identify “moist and tender” pork: it’s all labeled right on the front of the package, as if they’re bragging about the salt solution.

Since our pork is now leaner, cooking with added moisture prevents dried out meat.  Here are some basic cooking tips for non-enhanced pork:

  • brown and then braise with other moist ingredients like tomato sauce or other vegetables
  • marinate pork chops before grilling, using non-salty marinades
  • roast pork shoulder or other roast cuts at moderate heat
  • stew in a crock pot or in chili, until the meat falls apart

*Ironically, the fat in pork is highly monounsaturated fat – like olive oil, which is perceived to be healthy.

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