(unless you finish it with a cigarette chaser and your left anterior descending is 90 percent blocked from a lifetime of giddy indulgence and bad genes)

The two coastal heavyweight papers both open with pork belly today.  Bruni writes of fat happy times in the metropolis (we knew this already but it’s great to see it reaching the so a la mode city folk), and the sage Russ Parsons writes about the glories of DIY yakitori.  Perhaps he saw my euphoric description of my first yakitori experience (rare chicken hearts! grilled knee bones!).  I’m skeptical though about briefly grilling any old pork belly quickly.  Tasty no doubt, but it must be awfully tough.  I’ll bet it’s more unctuous and satisfying tender off the grill, which would require some sort of precooking.  Not that I’m doubting the redoubtable Russ—I’ve tried that before and it never works.  He also writes about something that gives me a pang of jealousy that I don’t live in the land of milk and honey—fresh garbonzo beans.

I write about the fat tipping point, also opening with a pork belly anecdote, in the current issue of restaurant hospitality (but the slackers don’t have it up yet that I can find—Sanson! Get off your ass, you’re losing readers!)

Countering all this FAT JOY, is a chef restaurateur’s story in the washpost about changing his diet after a heart attack. Alas, we do have to pay attention to blood cholesterol (but not so much to food cholesterol—waiter, more eggs please!)  Happily, even this paper, manages to slip in a pork belly story.

All hail the pig!


39 Wonderful responses to “In the Food Pages”

  • veron

    This is great! Just this month’s issue of F&W , it was voted to be best ingredient(I think) by the chefs. I’ve got 8 lbs of it sitting in my freezer right now. Hmmn…what to do? There’s a delicious recipe in the Cook’s Book and also in this month’s F&W. But of course let’s not forget deep-fried pork belly confit :).
    Hail to the pig, indeed!

  • veron

    forgot to say, love the new look (the caricature). Also forgot to say (after reading the DIY yakitori), in the Philippines, grilled pork belly, even if it is charred black, is the tastiest thing ever (we dip it in a mixture of vinegar and garlic and have it with lots of steamed rice)

  • Ed

    I was skeptical of Korean style short ribs too…I mean how can they be tender just flsh grilling them? It is all in how you cut it and the marinade. Not tender like braised meat, but tender in its own beautiful way.

  • Steve

    What if the marinade has a meat tenderizer in it, like papaya? I think Korean marinade for kalbi has… pear? Anyone? A lot of Chinese restaurants will put baking soda in their marinade, which is how they make their meat tender despite using el cheapo meat for their stir-fry. But it does leave an aftertaste (which I don’t mind, but some people can’t stand). Maybe you have a stricter definition of marinade than I use. Or, more likely, you know something I don’t about the above ingredients not actually working as meat tenderizers.

  • ruhlman

    yes, papaya and pineapple and some other juices have an enzyme that will break down meat, but i’ve found it make it mushy not tender.

  • TheFoodist

    as per McGee:

    “The green fruit contains vessels of milty latex rich in the protein-digesting enzyme papain, which is found in some meat tenderizers. Papain levels drop during ripening, but can still cause texture and taste problems like those caused by pineapple enzyme bromelain.”
    pg 381 On Food And Cooking (Revised and Updated Edition)

    on Bromelain:
    “Bromelain, the major enzyme, will break down gelatin, so pineapple for gelatin-based desserts must be cooked first, to inactivate the protein.”

    Hope that clears the air. But my understanding is there are just a few major ways to “Tenderize” meat.

    Mechanical- such as pounding out a chicken breast
    Enzymes- Such as the two listed above
    or Brine- Still debated (to my knowledge) as to if it actually can be considered tenderizer

  • Tags

    Amazing! I pick up Russ Parson’s “How to Pick a Peach” and come home to see him featured on this blog. I read somewhere that Cleveland hasn’t had a champion since 1964. It must be a misprint, because Cleveland’s had a champion all along since 1963.

  • veron

    Steve,my korean friend did say that for bulgogi (not sure about kalbi) use pear. Our restaurant at home (Philippines) uses baking soda because meat back there is tough as heck.
    We use good-old 7-up or sprite to marinate pork belly (with salt and pepper too of course). Not sure if it is a tenderizer though because with all that fat it should be tender anyway…

  • Hank

    Ah, green chickpeas. Since I do live in the Land of Milk & Honey, we get them pretty often. Oddly enough to me, they are wildly popular at Mexican markets. (Oddly because I have limited knowledge of Mexican cuisine). You can grow garbanzos in Cleveland, Mike, and in fact you could even plant them now. Just find a heat-tolerant variety and plant A LOT of them. Besides, they enrich the soil…

  • Chris Hennes

    But honestly, the best pork tenderizers: time and heat (and perhaps smoke, too!). All hail the pig! I’d add “long live the pig” but that seems to defeat the purpose. 🙂

  • Erin

    Sweet, I was hoping this subject would be blogged this morning.

  • Ed

    In my desire to be susinct, because I usually post too much, I neglected to provide the detail that may have supported the idea that marination (at least in the case of Kalbi) may make some difference in tenderness.

    In the recent issue of Cooks Illustrated there is an article on kalbi. It mentions the pear idea and touches on the rest of this, I believe they contacted McGee (or some other knowledgable source) to ask aout the pear, the vinegar etc…It turns out that real soy does contain protease enzymes and may work synergistically with the pear.

    Again I am / was skeptical…but they ran tests on cutting differences and the whole 9. I don’t have the magazine with me right now, I will look into it again though.

  • Chris Hennes

    The key here seems to be that it is the enzyme doing the tenderizing, and not just an acid. The Cook’s Illustrated test agrees with Ruhlman’s conclusion (marinade==mushy) for an acid marinade, but they found that the enzymatic marinades, when used carefully, and for the correct length of time, do in fact seem to tenderize without turning mushy, at least for the beef ribs. This is not true of all meats.

  • Bob delGrosso


    Salt will tenderize meat a bit if it is allowed to penetrate. Sugar will promote more tender meat by interfering with coagulation during cooking. Of course, to do that it they must be inside the meat.

    It doesn’t matter how the salt and sugar gets into the meat btw. You can convey them with brine, a dry rub or if you are into drama you can boot it in with a syringe.

    But then I suppose most cooks don’t carry works in their tool kits, now do they?

    Proteolytic enzymes are a problem because they are very effective at breaking down tissue and begin their job as soon as they come into contact. And if they are in a brine or rubbed onto the surface they will tend to break the surface proteins down too much while you are waiting for them to penetrate. So for enzymes to be effective your really need to inject them. But even then they will make mush around the injection site. To my knowledge no one has come up with a way to use enzymes that produces an aesthetically pleasing result. Even Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer sucks (I believe it contains bromelin)

  • Steve

    I dunno, I think kalbi is pretty aesthetically pleasing. Mmmm…. Korean barbecue…

    Bob, I think the key is to slice thin before marinating, as is the case with both kalbi and bulgogi. That way the marinade achieves maximum penetration before the surface becomes mush. Korean BBQ meats are usually marinated for a couple of hours, and mushiness never seems to be a problem. Maybe pear doesn’t actually have any tenderizing properties, and it’s the brining with soy sauce and sugar that makes the meat tender?

  • TheFoodist


    Thanks for the more detailed info on Enzymes. I keep hearing “You could use Papaya or Pineapple, but it doesnt yield great results” and though Ive never done it myself I could see why that is. Plus how many dishes could you use a papaya “marinade” with? not alot I dont think.

    As far as Brines and Cures go, Im a huge fan of them.. if theyre done right. Small items like chicken breasts I think benifit most from a quick brine (Size dictating time in brine and all that) But I really really enjoy a nice ham brined… so moist and juicy and flavorful…

  • Don Luis

    Saturday is pork day in Puerto Rico. There are roadside stands all over the island selling the best pork I’ve ever had, including chicharones. I’m guessing, but I don’t think they smoke it, just cook it for a long time.

  • Steve

    Speaking of pork, I was watching Bourdain’s show the other night, and he was eating some Balinese pork which he claimed — at least for the purposes of the show — was the best roast pork he’d ever tasted. With the palates, culinary experience, and general love of pork present among the readership of this blog, I’m interested to know what other people’s pinnacle of pork has been.

  • RI Swampyankee

    Chiang Mai, Thailand: From the fresh fried pork skins washed down with Mekong “whiskey” to the pork meatballs to the grilled pork-parts-on-a-stick, this city knows porcine perfection.

    The pork I had in southeast asia was about as far away from American factory pork as you could get. You didn’t feel gross or guilty eating pork fat there.

  • veron

    Well, just to up the pork fever a bit more. Feast your eyes on the lechon capital of the Philippines…
    Lechon Galore

  • Claudia

    Oh, Veron (Sidney) – those pork pix! I’m drooling! I haven’t been the same since the Indonesian No Reservations episode when Tony munched down on the coconut water-basted barbecued pig in Bali! Viva Le Lechon!

    And Sorcha – Pork Loops! I’m crying! Great way to start the day (!)

  • La Vida Dulce

    Russ Parsons is the man I credit for getting good grades in culinary school. He gave me the best advice for my kitchen practical examinations and I will be an eternally devoted fan. Thanks for mentioning him!

  • Steve

    Frosted Bacon Flakes actually sounds kind of good. Sort of sweet and savory, like when the bacon on your plate mixes with the maple syrup from your pancakes. Mmmm…

    Also, dry pet food pretty much tastes like meat flavored cereal.

  • Skawt


    Now you know why I buy thick-cute maple smoked bacon.

    OK, I’m salivating. Where’s mah drool bucket?

  • Claudia

    Ok, Steve, I have to ask – how do you know dry pet food tastes pretty much like meat-flavored cereal? (!!) Just curious . . . 🙂

  • Steve

    Try it! Come on, Claudia, you can’t tell me you’ve never wondered what it tasted like!

    I’m a vet, and when I was in school, one day in our nutrition class the professor laid out all sorts of food — dry, canned, treats, BARF, you name it — and encouraged us to try some (except the raw diet of course). I was pretty bold with the dry foods and the treats, but I’m not sure I tried any of the canned food.

  • Tags

    I was always partial to doggy donuts and chocolate dog drops. I haven’t seen either since the 70s, though the chocolate probably didn’t last long because chocolate is poisonous to dogs.

  • brandon_w

    There are guys that work for Merrick that will sit and eat the canned stuff while they are trying to sell it at dog shows. A little disturbing.

    Veron – did you take those pictures? If so, nice job, they are fantastic.

  • Claudia

    Ohh, Steeeeeeeve! NOW you tell me you never tried the canned stuff? (!)

  • AZ

    Today, angry response letters to Bruni appear in the NYT, bringing up national health care, animal cruelty, and heart attacks. Strong reminders of why supermarkets are full of lean pork, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the prizing of lean meats, and turkey everything.

  • Edward Ariniello

    Here’s the chemistry. Soy and salt toughen meat. Slicing the meat thin provides access for the marinade to completely penetrate the meat in a short period of time .The key to tenderizing meat is the enzyme in the fruit. koreans use asian pears. Papaya is the source for the enzyme papain, hence the name,Adolphs meat tenderizer contains a similar enzyme, so does Kiwi fruit.Only the enzyme will tendreize the meat the rest of the marinade is for plavor.For maximum tenderization expose the meat whether flanken cut ribs or thin sliced beef for a minimum of 4 hrs, overnight in the firg is better.One need not use tenderloin ,flank steak or blade steak from the chuck can be used. the meat can then be quickly grilled over coals and served with the dip sauce.