Can someone out there tell me where I can get a good pork chop? Try as I might, I have had no success. Good, fatty pork chops — once held in such high esteem by my sainted mother that she called them her “favorite fruit” — have sadly become a thing of the past. Sadder, too, as I proceed on my quest for porcine excellence, is the realization that good pork in general has gone the same way. Far away.
Sure, pork chops are readily available everywhere, as are all the pork products we’re used to seeing. But thanks (no thanks) to modern changes in feeding and breeding techniques, today’s pork has 16 percent less fat and 27 percent less saturated fat than it had in 1991. Touted by health-conscious nutritionists as the new white meat, today’s pork has fat and saturated fat levels equivalent to an equal amount of skinless chicken. But that’s the problem, folks. No fat, no flavor. The flavor — and resulting satisfaction — is in the fat.
I know; so is the cholesterol.
But what about cholesterol? Basically there are two philosophies. One says it’s killing us (clogged arteries) while the other holds that we need it for true vitality (necessary for healthy nerves and brain cells). Could there be some disinformation out there?
Today’s health-conscious consumers, buying into the notion that cholesterol is the culprit in creating cardiac problems, obsessively avoid eating fat, especially saturated fat. Yet studies show that heart disease, along with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and obesity is on the rise. How much benefit do we really get from those diet drinks and plastic butter substitutes?
Maybe we should try some pork belly.
Believe it or not, as much as we seem to care about reducing our fat intake, one of the most popular items on menus today is pork belly in one form or another. Everybody’s doing it. Bacon, of course, remains the traditional breakfast favorite (U.S. consumers buy 700 million pounds per year), and, phenomenally, we find it now in all sorts of unlikely places, such as in popcorn and even chocolate. Pork belly comes from the same cut of pork as bacon but it’s uncured, not smoked, and usually comes with the skin on.
One of my favorite pork dishes is Porchetta, a roasted, fatty, skin-on pork belly with a crackling mahogany crust that’s seasoned with fennel, chili, and orange and wrapped around a pork loin. It requires a bit of time to do properly, and although I thoroughly enjoy making it, I am equally happy to let my good friend Joe Quercia, chef/owner extraordinaire at Freddie’s Pizza do the work. Freddie’s Pizza is a culinary gem that I discovered back in 2008, and if you haven’t been there yet, you’re in for a real treat. The food at Freddie’s is not only excellent, it is consistently excellent.
Located on the corner of 61st Street and 16th Avenue in Cicero, Freddie’s Pizza is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and closed on Sunday. The menu is staggering, and you can eat in or take out. Porchetta is made fresh every Saturday, and I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.
Tell Joe I sent you.
Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander’s restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan City, Ind., and in Lake Geneva, Wis. He has also been executive chef at the Saddle & Cycle Club in Chicago. Frank lives in Forest Park, where he cooks for pleasure.