Dear Eric: Can you please confirm if pork is actually considered red meat? I had always understood that it was white, but have since heard that was only due to a specific advertising strategy.
Dear Suzanne: To get an answer to your question, I contacted Mary Jane Quinn, a senior marketing official for Ontario Pork. She confirmed your notion that an advertising strategy led some to conclude that pork, like chicken, was "white meat."
"The pork industry in the United States came up with an advertising campaign, 'Pork, the other white meat,' a few years back, which was widely seen and heard," Quinn said. "This campaign was meant to draw attention to the lean cuts of pork and their nutritional similarities to poultry."
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, although pork is the No. 1 meat consumed in the world, U.S. consumption dropped during the 1970s, largely because its high fat content caused health-conscious people to choose leaner meats.
The pork industry across North America responded by breeding leaner pigs.
Because of their efforts, a typical pig today contains 75 per cent less fat than it did in the 1950s. The "white meat" marketing campaign made people aware of that.
Although some lean cuts can be light in colour, pork is not "white meat." The fat reduction simply made pork similar nutritionally to white meat, such as chicken breast.
"Technically, pork is considered a red meat, along with beef, lamb and goat," Quinn said, adding that red meat is categorized in two ways.
The first is by the concentration of myoglobin, an oxygen-binding protein in muscles. The second is by whether the meat is from a mammal or a bird/fowl.
Pork has a higher concentration of myoglobin and is from a mammal, and is thus categorized as red meat, Quinn said.
Quinn says there are many cuts of pork that are very lean and healthy. In fact, she says, pork tenderloin has the same low-fat and low-cholesterol content as skinless chicken breast.
As noted in a past article, because some of those pork cuts, sold at most supermarkets, are so lean, they won't be richly marbled with fat, as is a Canada AAA beef steak. That fat can make a steak juicy even when cooked well done - a state of doneness that can make a lean pork cut, such as a loin chop, dry and chewy.
Many people cook pork well done out of habit, because they believe it's a safety issue.
The Canadian Pork Producers website, putporkonyourfork.com, says fears about undercooked pork have their origins in concerns about trichinosis, a disease caused by a parasite.
That website says trichinosis is no longer a health risk and, in 2000, was removed from national surveillance by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Even if trichinosis was a concern, the parasite causing it is destroyed at 137 F. That's well below pork's suggested cooking temperature of 160 F, for such things as chops, and 155 F for roasts, whose temperature will rise to 160 F when the roast is covered and allowed to rest before slicing.
The Canadian Pork Producers say a touch of pink in pork is both safe and desirable, especially for loin cuts, where you want the cooked meat to be moist, not dry and tough. The exception is ground pork and sausage, which, like all ground meats, must be thoroughly cooked.
For those who miss old-fashioned pork, which was fattier and richer in flavour, don't despair - small-scale farmers across Canada are raising those types of animals again, such as Berkshire pigs. Two examples are Sloping Hill Farm in Qualicum Beach and Stillmeadow Farm in Metchosin. Look online to contact those farms and find where to purchase their pork.
Eric Akis is the author of the just-published hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday. Submit your culinary questions to Eric by email or write to Ask Eric, Times Colonist, 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, V8T 4M2
Roast Pork Loin with Wine and Mushroom Sauce
Lean, mustard-and sage-flavoured pork served with a fine sauce. Add some mashed potatoes and a vegetable dish or two, and dinner is ready.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: About 60 to 70 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
2 1/2 lb. boneless pork loin roast
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried sage leaves, crumbled
? salt and freshly ground black
pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb. white or brown mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup red wine
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Set roast in a shallow, not overly large, roasting pan.
Combine mustard and sage in a small bowl. Brush mixture over the pork; season with salt and pepper. Roast pork for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 F.
Cook roast 40 to 50 minutes more, until the internal temperature reaches 155 F on a meat thermometer inserted into the centre of the roast.
(The thickness of pork roasts can vary, so the best way to gauge doneness is to use an instant-read meat thermometer.)
While the pork cooks, place oil in a large skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Mix in flour and garlic and cook 2 minutes more. While stirring steadily, mix in 1/2 cup of the stock. Bring to a simmer and when mixture is very thick, slowly mix in remaining stock. Bring sauce to a simmer, then remove from the heat.
Cover sauce and reserve until needed.
When the pork is cooked, transfer it to a plate, tent with foil and rest 10 minutes. Set the roasting pan over medium-high heat.
Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Pour in the mushroom sauce and return to a simmer; and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sauce to a serving vessel. Thinly slice pork, arrange on a platter and serve with the sauce.
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