What does pork have that other proteins don't?
Answer – more variety than beef or chicken. Plus it tastes good and is low in fat.
"Pork is 100 percent usable," says Chef Susan Goss, Chicago, Ill. "You can use more parts than any other protein. Every part of the pig has a different flavor."
In her 20 years as a chef, Goss has been loyal to pork and she's seeing that catch on with customers. She says they are eating more pork now than ever. "I feature pork because it's popular and I can produce a big plate at a lower cost," she adds. "Pork helps balance out the more expensive items on the menu."
Pork chops are a favorite for Goss' customers. She also features pork loin, tenderloin and shoulder meat, which is great for pulled-pork sandwiches. Along with the major cuts, Goss uses a lot of ham and bacon as ingredients. Plus, she makes her own sausage that she uses as a base for many dishes.
Not only does Goss use a lot of pork in her two restaurants (see sidebar), she's a big promoter of it as well. Goss is one of five Celebrated Chefs working with the National Pork Board. As part of the program, these chefs help showcase pork's delicious taste, versatility and profitability in the foodservice industry.
They share information about pork with colleagues, explore new trends and demonstrate how pork helps contribute to their success as a chef. Some of their activities include developing new ways to feature pork in advertising programs, appearing at special events and creating new recipes.
"The program is a great collaboration between restaurants and producers," says Goss. "The more you know about how pork is raised, the more you want to cook it."
Goss believes the pork industry does a good job of making its product visible to consumers. "It's important to publicize how the product has changed and how pork quality has improved," she adds.
Goss realizes chefs don't have the luxury of cooking pork slowly for long periods of time. Therefore, she encourages her counterparts to brine pork with a salt and sugar base, plus any other ingredients they wish. This process helps fuse moisture into the pork, giving the chefs an extra five or six minutes of cooking time before it starts to dry out. "Brining gives me another cooking advantage and provides a unique flavor," she notes.
Consistency is extremely important to Goss, and it's a big reason why she signed with Pipestone Farms of Minnesota to supply all of the pork for her restaurants. She likes the fact that some producers are putting a little more fat back into pork to provide extra flavor.
By featuring a branded product, Goss can provide more information about the products that she serves.
Producers taking advantage of these types of niche-marketing opportunities is exciting for Goss and her customers. "My patrons are interested in where the product comes from," she notes. "Most hadn't seen branded pork on a menu."
"I chose Pipestone Farms because the meat is rosier, has more flavor, is juicier and better marbled than other pork I've used," explains Goss. "It's important to build relationships with suppliers to get a consistent, quality product every time."
And those are traits, Goss says, that pork can deliver better than any other protein she uses.
Serving Up Pork
Chef Susan Goss owns two restaurants in Chicago. The primary one is Zinfandel, located in the River North area in downtown. There, she features regional American cooking with a different menu each month. She offers at least one pork entree nine out of the 12 months. This restaurant is considered high-end dining, with an extensive wine list.
She also owns a neighborhood bistro, the West Town Tavern, which features a Mediterranean-style menu. This offers customers a more casual atmosphere, with lower priced entrees. Once again, pork is a popular menu item.