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A ‘cave man’ pork chop with poblano pepper sauce, cornbread, broccoli, cauliflower and butternut squash. (Credit: John Ross)

Pork, in all its fresh, processed, preserved and cooked forms, is the leading meat of the world. Before the invention of the railroad and before the invention of refrigeration, preserved meat and fish were the only way to feed much of the population.

Pigs, with their prolific reproduction and their ability to survive on most anything, were the perfect candidates for salting, smoking and curing. Now that these preservation methods are no longer required in most cases, we continue to enjoy our smoked hams, bacon, sausages and hot dogs due to long-established traditions.

We also enjoy the flavor of fresh pork, but the industrialization of pork production has resulted in lean meat that often lacks flavor. Industrially produced pork has also raised many questions of animal cruelty in the use of gestation crates, cement floors and close confinement.

On the North Fork (and around the country) we are seeing small farms that have returned pigs to the pasture, allowing them to eat organic grains and to root in the soil and wallow in the mud to keep cool. The result is tender pork that is full of flavor and nutrition and the knowledge that it was responsibly raised.
Here are a couple of ways to enjoy this delicious meat:

‘Cave Man’ Stuffed Pork Chops with Poblano Pepper Sauce
Have your butcher cut four 2-inch-thick pork chops from the rib end of the pork loin. Cut a pocket in each chop by making a lateral cut into the bone with a sharp knife.

Make a spice rub by combining 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, Mexican chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Rub this mixture on the chops and refrigerate.

Make cornbread for the stuffing and to accompany the chops by combining 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. In another bowl whisk together 1 cup milk, 1 egg and 1/4 cup canola oil.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients with a rubber spatula. Spray an 8-inch cake pan with no-stick and add the batter. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes.

For the stuffing, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and add 1 chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Sauté for 3 minutes and add 1 cup corn kernels.

Cut off about a third of the cornbread (reserving the rest) and break it up with your hands. Stir this into the onion mixture and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

Brush the excess seasoning off the pork chops and stuff each with the cornbread mixture, securing them with tooth picks.

Prepare a charcoal grill and wait until it is very hot. Before browning the chops, place 2 poblano peppers, 1 jalapeno pepper and 2 ears of corn on the grill. Cook the corn for about 3 minutes and cook the peppers until blackened. Remove the corn and scrape off the kernels. Wrap the peppers loosely in foil.

Brush the chops with canola oil and grill them for about 3 minutes on each side. Shove the coals to the side and add a handful of water-soaked hickory chips to the fire. Place the chops away from the coals so that they cook slowly at low heat. Cover the grill and almost close the vents to guarantee slow cooking. Cook for about 45 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees.

Let the chops rest for 20 minutes before serving.

For the pepper sauce, scrape the blackened skin off the roasted peppers, remove the seeds and dice.

Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic along with the corn and diced peppers. Sauté briefly and add 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup heavy cream. Continue cooking and stir in 1/4 cup cornmeal.

Simmer for 10 minutes and stir in the zest and juice of 1 lime and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the reserved cornbread and the sauce on the side.

Slow-Roasted Pork Butt
Purchase a local pork butt with the bone in and the skin on, weighing about 7 or 8 pounds.

Remove the skin with a sharp knife and set aside. Score the fat cover of the pork butt in a cross-hatch pattern.

Combine 1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup brown sugar and rub over the entire pork butt. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate overnight.

Place the pork skin on a sheet pan and cook for 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Remove and cut into strips with kitchen shears. Place back in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and cool. These cracklings are delicious and will keep in a sealed container overnight.

Place a V-rack in a roasting pan and spray it with no-stick. Set the pork butt on the rack and add 2 cups water to the pan.

Place the pan in a 250-degree oven and cook for 8 hours (the internal temperature should read 185 degrees). Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 450 degrees.

Return the pork to the hot oven and let it cook another 15 minutes or until the fat cover is a deep brown color. Remove, tent with foil and let the roast sit for 30 minutes before carving.

Pour the liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan into a bowl and skim off the fat.

Deglaze the roasting pan with 1 cup white wine and 1 cup chicken stock. Add this to the drippings in a saucepan and thicken with 1 tablespoon cornstarch combined with 2 tablespoons water. Simmer for 15 minutes and check seasoning.

To complete the meal, purchase 2 pounds of freshly made kielbasa and poach it in simmering water for 30 minutes. Remove from the water and cut it into 3-inch lengths. Brush these with oil and grill them until lightly browned. In addition to the pork gravy, serve barbecue sauce and applesauce on the side.

John Ross