Swine and dineBobby R. Presents Thursday, April 28th, 2011
There is an inherent fear of cooking white meats that I got over long ago using a meat thermometer until I was completely comfortable estimating doneness by texture. Case in point: the other day someone commented that the chicken I had served was very tender and delivered the comment not as a compliment but as a reservation to its doneness. Jeesh, give me a break! Pork, classified as the other white meat, is no exception to this skepticism.
Pork is less cooked in the home kitchen because it does not lend itself to being overlooked if overdone. Chickens in the market today are so plumped up with saline solutions that even if overcooked are still edible with only relative dryness. Pork, on the other hand, when overcooked takes on an almost greenish-grey color and dries out so much that getting it down the hatch could be classified as a gastronomic Olympic sport.
The stigma is so great that it expands beyond the home kitchen and into the restaurant. In my years of restaurant service, I have had to coax many-a-guest toward pork menu items, knowing they were delicious and prepared to perfection, that the guest was originally dismissive of (not to mention better than other options). I hope this coaxing broke the clients’ bubble of apprehension and allowed them to experience more of restaurants’ menus.
That is not to say that restaurants will not try to execute pork-centric dishes and fail. It is important to chat with your waiter about any dish you will order when dining out but even more important if leaning toward pork. Some restaurants will serve thick pork chops at medium rare, perfectly fine for consumption but a deal breaker for some. Any waiter should know all the ins and outs of every dish’s contents and preparation. If they are unsure of the final dish, then choose something different (or ask for a different waiter).
With pig on the brain and its execution on the line, I found myself at Tre Porcellini in Hillcrest to see how they would fare against my humble opinion of pork preparation. Tre Porcellini, opened in late December 2010, translates to “three little pigs” and identifies as a modern Italian bistro. My first visit was in early January when I tried their (almost) eponymous dish, Trio Porcellini, featuring glazed pork belly, a pork chop Milanese and a slice of slow roasted pork shoulder.
Pork belly is one of those underused cuts that have gained notoriety in recent foodie vogue. It contains two layers; the top is crisp and sweet from the oven roasted glaze while the bottom is fatty and filled with flavor that melts on the tongue to distribute its flavor to every taste bud. I have often hooked an otherwise apprehensive eater on this cut by tasting them on it without divulging what it was.
A Milanese style pork shop is thin, breaded and pan fried like my grandmother used to make and was the favorite of the table once we all began sampling each other’s dishes. The bread crumbing was light and allowed the true pork flavor from the chop to combine in a duo of texture and flavor. The dish provided me with comfort in each bite that was an apparently specific device of chef Roberto Gerbino.
Gerbino was kind enough to share the recipe he uses for his slow roasted pork shoulder. A cut that is inexpensive and packed with flavor, otherwise known as pork butt, it can be cooked at home with relative ease and gain you approbation. Gerbino mixes 3 ounces each of salt and light brown sugar to rub the roast down. This is refrigerated for 12 hours, then rubbed off before being sprinkled with coarsely ground pepper and pierced with a paring knife to insert slivers of fresh garlic. The roast is tied tight with kitchen string before slow roasted at 275 degrees for five hours. The internal temperature of the pork should register 155 degrees when done (the target temp is 165 but will raise 10 degrees after 15 minutes out of the oven).
During subsequent visits, I found pork snuck into other dishes under esoteric guises such as speck (smoked prosciutto) and guanciale (pork cheek) to name a few. Beyond pork, Tre Porcellini makes all of their pastas in house and sources local vendors for produce and breads. I have had the pleasure of tasting many items, all done to perfection that include: the “mac and cheese” risotto which is smoothed through with cheddar and parmigiano and finished off with truffle oil and champagne, the braised veal ravioli is flavored with a rich mushroom sauce and served with a marrow filled shank as an accoutrement. I wish I had enough room to go on and on but I think you get the gist.
While maneuvering the menu, pay special attention to items that have the pink pig next to them; they are classified as house specialties and you can taste the love. Aside from house specialties, Tre Porcellini offers discounted beer, wine and appetizers during happy hour daily from 4-7 p.m., lunch specials and pre-fixed dinner options. You can find Tre Porcellini at 1417 University Ave. (next to Baja Betty’s) and additional information on their website, treporcellini.net.
Whether a few experiments in the kitchen with pork roasts and a meat thermometer or a visit to Tre Porcellini; I think all you little wolves will be coming around to blow the doors in; throwing out (or making) reservations for pork.
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