Carnivore's Guide: Pork

The taste of locally raised pork whether it's tender and lean or striated with rich layers of flavor
Posted December 10, 2010

The taste of locally raised pork—whether tender and lean or striated with rich layers of flavorful fat—is about as far as you can get from the slabs of meat stacked in the supermarket’s discount cooler. While it’s not always economically feasible to buy only the top-grade local stuff when you’re feeding a family, consider these terrific shoulders, bellies and chops for your next special-occasion feast.

Try it out: Our favorite restaurant pork dishes

Pernil (above left): The must-order item at La Isla is a nod to Italy via Puerto Rico: The pastelón pernil ($15.99) is a golden-crusted dish of molten cheese, sweet plantains and silky strands of pulled pork. This form of lasagna—with plantains subbing for the noodles—is as savory and indulgent as its Italian counterpart. 

Cantonese roasted pork:
If you’re looking for an inexpensive lunchtime escape to the Far East, head to Ton Kiang. The roasted pork ($4.95 for lunch or $7.95/pound) at this bare-bones joint in the International District is rubbed with softly scented star anise, then roasted until the reddish skin becomes cracker crisp.

Braised pork cheeks:
Succulent, fall-apart cheeks braised with pearl onions and petite potatoes ($27) arrive in individual copper pots at Ballard’s Bastille Café and Bar. A side order of golden Kennebec fries is the right vehicle for mopping up every drop of the flavorful sauce.

Pork belly: With nearly every restaurant in the city featuring pork belly of some sort, the task of choosing one definitive dish is daunting. Our cop-out? Chronicling Lark’s delicious, perennial treatment of this cut: sometimes with plums and radicchio, sometimes over creamed summer corn, and, in the fall, with roasted root vegetables and polenta ($18).

Mangalitsa pork
There are too many notable Mangalitsa pork dishes in town to call out just one, so here’s a round-up of our favorite places where you’ll often find this exceptionally lardy, highly flavorful heritage pork. Though the preparation changes seasonally, you might find it on the menu at Monsoon glazed with five-spice ($29), at Nell’s (pictured), where the grilled chop is paired with gnocchi, rosemary and Swiss chard ($25), or at The Herbfarm as part of a $175–$195 wine-inclusive tasting menu.

Choice pork cuts: What to look for at your butcher/grocer

Ribs: The pork ribs from Skagit River Ranch in Sedro-Woolley are perfectly trimmed and delicious on the grill—a farmers’ market favorite. About $5.50/pound, available at the U District and Ballard farmers’ markets.

For a feast
: The cheapest whole pig in town, suitable for spit roasting at your next party, is available at Better Meat CO. in Greenwood. About $275 for a standard 80- to 90-pound piglet.
Pork belly: Skagit River Ranch’s pork belly has the ideal fat-to-lean ratio, great for roasting or braising at home, or curing for bacon. About $7/pound, available at the Ballard Farmers’ Market.

Tenderloin: The tenderloin from Olsen Farms in Colville is almost buttery in texture—lean, but flavorful. For maximum tenderness, don’t overcook this luxurious cut. $25/pound, available at the U District and Ballard farmers’ markets.

Ham: The house-smoked ham from Sea Breeze Farm on Vashon Island is smokier than most. $8/pound, available at the U District and Ballard farmers’ markets.

Shoulder: From the perspectives of flavor and value, there is no beating pork shoulder from Wooly Pigs’ Mangalitsa pigs, which are fattened in central Washington by local farmer Heath Putnam. Striated with fat that tastes light and clean, it's ideal for slow cooking. About $6/pound, at the U District Farmers’ Market.

Can’t make it to the farmers’ market, where Heath Putnam of Wooly Pigs sells his premium Mangalitsa pork? Head over to Bill the Butcher (multiple locations), where you can pick up different cuts of pork and specialty ingredients like Mangalitsa lardo ($19/pound) and speck, a cured meat similar to prosciutto ($16/pound).

For an  exotic taste

Head cheese: Served with Asian hot mustard and a cooling purslane salad, the head cheese (cold, jellied meat made from bits of meat from the head) at Joule stands, well, shoulders above any other version we’ve sampled in town.

Pig’s ears: Bellevue’s Spiced is a Szechuan restaurant that also has a cold case full of prepared foods for easy take-out or eat-in. The pig’s ears, braised, chilled, then thinly sliced before being tossed in tongue-tantalizing Szechuan peppercorn oil, is beyond compare. At only $6 for a hefty, three-scoop carton, this is one of the best deals in town if you’re a pig-ear fan.

Published November 2010

More articles from our Meat issue
Carnivore's Guide: Bacon!
Carnivore's Guide: A Burger for every budget
Carnivore's Guide: Charcuterie
Carnivore's Guide: Chicken
Carnivore's Guide: Duck, Turkey, and Goose
Carnivore's Guide: Game: Venison, Elk, Wild Boar
Carnivore's Guide: Lamb
Carnivore's Guide: The Meatless Meats
Carnivore's Guide: Offal
Carnivore's Guide: Pork
Carnivore's Guide: Sausages
Carnivore's Guide: The Steakhouses
Carnivore's Guide: The Art of Butchering
Carnivore's Guide: Butcher Shops and Meat Markets
Carnivore's Guide: The Seattle Meat Directory