From the Introduction
If you have ever found yourself staring at the landscape of pork cuts in the cooler at the grocery store and felt lost as to what to buy (let alone how to cook and serve it), I am here to guide you. This book is packed with delicious pork recipes of all sorts—quick weekday suppers, appetizers for a few or many, elegant main courses and some BBQ and grilling fun. My goal is to help you expand the types of pork you purchase and then develop your confidence to transform those cuts into meals you’ll be proud to share with family and friends.
And who am I to guide you on this journey? Well, I’ve been cooking pork for over 30 years—my entire professional career as a chef. I can offer the perspective of someone who has spent three decades in professional kitchens, planning menus, buying on a large scale, trimming, portioning, turning wholesale cuts into attractive single servings, and more. I’ve always loved working in kitchens, experiencing the adrenaline rush, the teamwork and the satisfaction of service. But, these days, having left the pro kitchen behind, I also understand what home cooks are looking for. I now focus on the practical angle of creating delicious meals in a timely manner without going overboard or getting too complicated.
Of course, cooking at home is entirely different from doing so professionally. There isn’t the same urgency, budget or labor cost concern, and you get to eat the food! That said, regardless of the environment, I see cooking as a fun activity, almost like a puzzle to solve. Whether it’s a meal for a holiday, a special occasion, or a regular Tuesday evening, I love the planning and shopping; choosing the right music; pulling out tablecloths, platters and glasses; and even buying fresh flowers. I experience an unbridled sense of joy as I bring it all together, checking off the to-dos from my list, grooving to the music and tasting great results as I wait for the guests to show.
But the best part of cooking is the sharing. Most of my meals are enjoyed with just my sweetie, Anna, and when I get the nod of approval from her, it’s the best compliment ever. We’re so well-suited and nerdily enthusiastic about food that we often plan our next meal while eating the one at hand. Anna, as many of you may know from her TV work, is a trained pastry chef. My culinary background is as a saucier (someone who cooks meat and prepares sauces). When we cook together, magic happens. We instinctively go to our own areas: Anna works on dessert and the vegetable sides, and I do the trimming, cook the meat and make the sauce. We clean as we go and laugh the whole time. Even if there are serious things to discuss, we do so in the kitchen. Now that my daughter, Mika, has become an accomplished cook in her own right, she gets in on the action. She grew up surrounded by good food and has always understood how to survive without having to order out. As a family, we hit our stride in the kitchen or at the table—and I’m good with that.
“Living high off the hog” is an old term used to suggest you’re living the good life, able to eat the more expensive cuts of meat. In general, regardless of the animal, cuts from the upper (or “higher”) part of the body are more tender than the lower ones—historically, only the poorest people would eat the jowls, belly, hock or feet. However, pork is an affordable meat choice for many, so in this case, the phrase is not about living beyond your means but rather about getting the most out of life by enjoying good food.