TIPS FOR COOKING IBERICO PORK
FROM GLENDOWER FARMS
When it comes to cooking pork, Iberico pork is different! Compared to the commodity pork from modern fast-growing pigs, the Iberico has a significantly higher fat to lean ratio. Its fats are higher in oleic fatty acids that are not only better for you but melt at a lower temperature. That’s why LOW and SLOW are important words to keep in mind while cooking this flavor-filled meat. In fact, pasture grown Iberico pork resembles good beef in its color, taste, and cooking qualities much more than it resembles other pork.
Overcooking is a common mistake home cooks and even professional chefs make when they first try Iberico pork. The meat gives up its tasty fat—and its juiciness—quickly when it’s cooked like commodity pork. Cooked well done, it becomes dry and tough, especially the loin cuts. And the bacon simply disappears as all of the fats are rendered out of it.
Why has pork traditionally been overcooked? For decades, the USDA recommended cooking all pork to 160 degrees due primarily to a fear of trichinosis. But the parasite that causes trichinosis has virtually disappeared from modern swine herds. Furthermore, that organism is killed by heating to 137 degrees or by freezing. (Most Glendower Farms pork is stored frozen at -15 degrees F.) So in 2011, the USDA changed its recommendation for cooking whole pork cuts to 145 degrees—the same as beef. The USDA still recommends cooking ground or shredded pork and beef products to 160 degrees. Both of these recommendations, of course, have generous margins of safety built into them. Otherwise, no one would ever eat a medium rare steak. Bottom line: You can usually cook pork like beef!
What about the fat? Well, fat is where the flavor is! Meat scientists tell us that most of the organic compounds that contribute to flavor are held in the fat. That’s why a well marbled steak tastes so good and why Wagyu beef is so prized. Iberico is often called the Wagyu of Pork. For centuries the breed has been valued for its high-oleic fat, because this fat was essential for the long curing periods used to make the famous acorn-fed hams of Spain and Portugal. According to research in Spain, much of the Iberico’s fat is stored as “micro-marbling.” You may not see a lot of it inside the muscle, but it’s still there.
The Spaniards often call their Iberico pigs “Olive trees on legs” because of the high amount of oleic and other healthy unsaturated fatty acids in the fat. Good grazing, like we use at Glendower Farms, also allows the Iberico pig to store high levels of omega three fatty acids and alpha tocopherols, contributing to a healthier fat. Modern nutrition science is also beginning to recognize that high quality unsaturated animal fats are an important part of a healthy diet when these fats are consumed in moderation. The pasture-grazed Iberico produces the ultimate high quality animal fat.
HOW TO COOK THE IBERICO LOIN CUTS
Because of their lack of connective tissue, the loin muscles are usually the tenderest parts of the pig. So they don’t need long cooking times to break down the connective tissue. You can cook them like you would a good beef steak, loin roast, or prime rib. The secret to a good finished Iberico pork loin product is LOW, SLOW, and RESTED.
Whether it’s a chop or a roast, we like to begin the loin cooking process by brining the meat in a refrigerator—unless, of course, the chop has already been brined for you. There are lots of brine recipes on the internet. We use one with sea salt and brown sugar along with a little fresh ground black peppercorn and a touch of garlic. We brine a 1.5 inch chop for 8-12 hours (less than half that time for a ¾ inch chop). A roast, depending on its size, may stay in the brine for 24 to 48 hours before removing and storing in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook it. The brine will enhance the juiciness and flavor of the finished product.
When you’re ready to cook the meat, remove it from the refrigeration and let it rest at room temperature for an hour or two, depending on the size of the meat. You want to start the cooking process with a uniform temperature throughout the meat, if possible. If you have a meat thermometer that can be read remotely (wireless or wired probe), insert into the central core of the meat. Now you’re ready for LOW and SLOW.
We like to use a reverse sear cooking process that begins in an oven.
Set your oven to bake at 250 degrees. Place your pork in a pan with a rack, put it in the cold oven, and turn it on. Patiently monitor the core temperature of the meat as it cooks. To help ensure that it is cooking uniformly, you can turn the meat several times as it’s cooking. When the core temperature of the meat reaches 118 to 120 degrees, remove it from the oven. By this time, you should have begun heating a skillet (preferably cast iron) on top of the stove. You can use some of the drippings (or some olive oil) in the bottom of the skillet.
Place the meat in the hot skillet, searing it on both sides and on the edges until brown and slightly crusted. This process will probably take only a few seconds. In the case of a roast, you can use the oven broiler to accomplish a similar result.
Now it’s time to REST the meat by placing it on a warm plate or platter and covering with foil or a top. The resting stage allows the meat to finish cooking and distributes the juices through the meat. It should last 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the cut. During the searing and resting stage, the core temperature of the meat should rise to about 135-140 degrees. It should be juicy and pink inside. We believe this is when it’s at its best.
HOW TO COOK IBERICO BACON
For Iberico bacon, the LOW and SLOW principle is a simple one to apply.
Set your oven to bake at 350 degrees. Cut the bacon to your desired length and layout on a rack in a shallow pan. Place the pan in the oven and turn it on.
When the fat begins to brown and you’re satisfied with the level of doneness, remove the bacon from the oven and place on paper towels to finish draining. Remember that the longer it cooks, the more the fat turns to drippings.
The drippings are excellent for seasoning and cooking other dishes. To maximize their keeping qualities, strain the drippings into a light-blocking container, and store them in your refrigerator.
HOW TO COOK IBERICO CUBED STEAK
Glendower Farms cubed steak is an exception to the Low and Slow rule. It’s great cooked hot and fast. We like it well seasoned with salt and pepper, sprinkled with a little flour to add crustiness, then dropped in a smoking hot skillet containing a little olive oil or homemade Iberico lard. Sear it well on both sides, being careful not to let it get overdone. It cooks very fast and should remain pink in the center.
This steak comes from the ham or the shoulder. Some of the tastiest meat on the pig is found here, but it contains more connective tissue than the loin. That’s why we mechanically tenderize it by cubing.
This cut is also great for making a schnitzel or for a delicious heavily-battered chicken fried steak.
COOKING IBERICO SAUSAGES
Whether your Glendower Farms sausage is smoked or not, they should all be cooked before eating. The Iberico link sausages are stuffed in a natural casing. Dropping a cold sausage in a hot skillet or placing it on a hot grill will usually cause the casing to burst. You need to bring the heat up slowly on these sausages. Some cooks prick whole links to relieve pressure, but that allows some of the juices to escape. We like cooking them very slowly without pricking (except for the prick of the meat thermometer). Otherwise, they can be cooked multiple ways (skillet, oven, grill, etc.) with good results.
Like most ground meat products, sausages should be cooked to a finished internal temperature of at least 155 degrees. (USDA recommends 160 degrees). We usually remove them from the pan, oven, or grill at about 150 degrees and let them finish cooking during a brief rest period.
Chorizo Burger. Our chorizo burger is ground pork with a mild chorizo seasoning. Our favorite way to serve it is in slider form (about 2 oz) on a Hawaiian sweet roll. It can also be blended with ground beef to add juiciness and flavor to a hamburger. It has dozens of uses when cooked with other foods or as a meat base for other dishes—like a Spanish paella. It goes especially great with starchy foods like potatoes or pasta. The internet is full of recipes for using Chorizo.
RENDERING YOUR OWN LARD FROM PASTURED IBERICO FAT: IT’S EASY
A good lard will transform your cooking! It was probably your grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) secret to incredible fried chicken or delicious flakey pastries and breads. And there’s no better fat for making your own lard than the high-oleic, vitamin-rich fat from a pastured Iberico pig. What’s more, we make the process easy by grinding the back fat or leaf fat for you so that it renders quickly and cleanly.
You can cook (render) lard in an oven, a crockpot, or an Instant Pot. There’s plenty of advice on the internet about how to do it. This link is a good one: www.myhumblekitchen.com/2011/02/how-render-lard-the-right-way-snow-white.
We like rendering lard in a crockpot on our screened back porch to keep the porky cooking odors out of the house. Add ¼ cup of water to the pot to help prevent any burning of the fat at the bottom of the pot while it’s cooking. Add 2-5 pounds of ground fat and set on high for the first hour. Then turn the crockpot to low and cook until most of the fat turns to liquid, stirring occasionally as the fat cooks. The residue left behind is mostly slivers of muscle and connective tissue. It’s called “crackling,” and you’ll want to save it.
As the cooking process is nearing completion, begin ladling or pouring off the liquid fat. Strain it through a cheese cloth lined sieve or colander into your storage jar or container, returning any cracklings to the crockpot. The risk of some burning increases near the end of the rendering process. So, you’ll get the whitest lard by removing it before it has a chance to begin turning brown. Finally, strain the last bit of lard through the cheese cloth and pour the captured cracklings into a shallow baking pan. Finish these cracklings in the oven, remove from the baking pan, and drain on a paper towel. Store them in a jar in the refrigerator and use them like bacon bits.
Because the Iberico high-oleic fats melt at a lower temperature that other pork fat, your Iberico lard will probably not solidify at room temperature. So, place it in the refrigerator or freezer. It should solidify and maintain high quality for many months when stored there. To minimize fat oxidation caused by light exposure, you might want to store your lard in a dark container or wrap clear jars in foil.