Pork is a gift from the heavens for those eating frugally. There's just something about pork products that makes them amazingly delicious, and even in small doses, pork just makes about anything better.
When we first started talking about eating frugally, I mentioned a big way to do this is to move meat from the main star of the meal into a more supportive role. In my opinion, there is no better meat to accomplish this beautifully than pork. From bacon to sausage to ears and feet - there just really isn't a meat more delicious than the pig. It's deliciousness means a little goes a long way.
Don't be scared of the lesser bits when it comes to eating, especially eating frugally. I am sure you will discover what Louis Prima knew long ago - that the closer to the bone, the sweeter is the meat. Here are a few cuts and thoughts on what to do with them...
One of the best things pork has to offer is its gelatin. Full of flavor but without fat, the gelatin which comes from bony pork cuts creates a rich flavor and mouth feel. This creates the allusion of savory fattiness which also makes a meal - even one without a lot of meat - very satisfying.
- Ham Hock/Ham Knuckles: might be one of my favorite additives. When I used to work at G. Michael's, I would always try to be around when the greens were coming off the stove. Workers lucky enough to being around could enjoy the small bits of sweet braised meat clinging to the ham hock. There isn't a ton of meat on a ham hock, but it is full of flavor. Throw one into a pot of beans, lentils, or greens while they are cooking and you won't believe the flavor it adds. When the beans are finished cooking, I like to remove the ham hock and carefully pick all of the meat out of it. A few bites are the cook's treat, and everything else can be shredded and thrown back in. Smoked ham hocks are very inexpensive - about $1 each, depending on size. I usually like to use about 1 hock for every 4 quarts of liquid.
- Trotters: extremely inexpensive and absolutely full of gelatin, trotters add flavor and dimension to stocks which simply can't be matched by any other cut or variety of meat. You might remember when we first made chicken and pork stock here at Chez Widow; it has become a staple in our freezer. Trotters are great for adding seasoning and depth to soups; where I would use ham hocks to flavor mostly dry preparations (beans, greens), trotters are great for something which will end up a bit broth-ey-er. Of course, trotters also make great sausages, but I'm just not quite there yet.
- Sausage: I love cooking with sausage. I love everything about it, but I think the best thing about sausage is that it is already seasoned, so you can replace a lot of ingredients with sausage (see 4 -ingredient bean soup). You can use one sausage to flavor a pot of soup, risotto, greens, pasta - a little goes a long way, and if you start viewing meat as more of a flavoring agent, you will amazed that one sausage can indeed feed a few people.
- Bacon: do I really have to say anything here? Bacon makes everything better.
- Pancetta: is the Italian version of bacon. The belly is salt-cured, rather than being smoked as it is in the US, and then rolled tightly. The result is a large, round, sausage-looking tube. Pancetta has an earthier, saltier, and much gamy-er flavor compared to its rather mild American cousin. Although a little expensive by the pound, you can purchase it by the slice and it really isn't that expensive. I usually buy it from the deli case, where you can have it sliced 1/4 inch thick, and then cut it into cubes easily at home. Because of the fat content, I like to put it in the freezer for half an hour before trying to chop it.
- And of course, let us not forget, should you really want pork to be the center of attention, that the lesser cuts of pork are some of the most delicious. Who needs tenderloin or dry loin when you can have succulent, slowly braised shoulder, salty cottage ham, country ribs, cheeks, or so-could-you-could-cry belly?
Pork recipes I have loved:
White Bean and Kale Soup with Sausage.
Sausage with Grapes.
Pasta with Sausage and Arugula.
Sausage Biscuits with Gravy.
Hoppin' John with Pork Shoulder.
The Goodness of Country Pork Ribs.
Pork Trotter Stock.
White Beans & Rice with Ham Hock.
Cheesy Grits with Bacon.
Carbonara with Wild Boar Bacon.
Pasta with Squash, Sprouts, and Bacon.
and of course, let us not forget my Absolutely Perfect Brussels Sprouts.