It’s heart smart and delicious

2008-12-11 00:00

IF you’re health and weight conscious, and you’ve been excluding pork from your diet, you should reconsider — because new research on South African pork has shown that it is a nutrient-dense food that contains protein, vitamins and minerals, without supplying too much energy and fat.

The South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (Sappo) recently commissioned Dr Ina van Heerden of the ARC-Animal Production Institute at Irene near Pretoria to take a closer look at the local product.

“We needed to do our own research,” Van Heerden said, speaking to a group of food writers assembled at the Spier wine estate near Stellenbosch. “Until recently our information was based on data from the United States where the animals are fed and slaughtered differently.”

The findings show that as part of a balanced eating plan, pork can be eaten on a daily basis. “A moderate portion of 80 to 90 grams per day or 560 grams per week can form an important part of a balanced diet.”

Pork provides high-quality protein and contains both essential and non-essential amino acids in an easily absorbable form. It is also an excellent source of thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3) and minerals such as zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and iron.

The pork produced in South Africa today has been bred to be leaner, providing a lower fat content than was previously believed, and contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and lower levels of cholesterol and saturated fatty acids when compared with beef and mutton. In fact, several pork cuts are as low in fat as lean poultry cuts and have the approval of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, provided they are included as part of a healthy eating plan.

To ensure you use the cuts approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, look out for the following in the meat cabinet of your favourite butchery - and remember, if you don’t see them, ask for them.

• Pork loin, rib, neck or chump chops.

• Roasts made from the leg or shoulder of pork with a fat layer of 3mm or less. (It’s easy to trim pork to your preference. All the fat sits on the outside of the meat, making it a simple matter to remove or to trim to a thin layer.)

• Pork shanks.

• Pork fillets.

• Stir-fry pork strips with no visible fat.

• Pork loin steaks — an elegant cut, low in fat and easy to cook.

• Pork goulash or cubes, without visible fat — especially good for kebabs.

• Pork mince.

“Pork plays a vital part in a healthy diet,” said Van Heerden. “It contains many of the nutrients recommended by many health organisations to build and maintain a healthy body. Most importantly, it adds taste and variety to a modern eating plan.”

tips: get value by knowing how to buy

• Bulk buys. Don’t be scared to buy pork in bulk — it will save you money.

• Buy seasonally. Pork is in more plentiful supply from January to the beginning of September. During these months, the price is often a lot lower than it is closer to Christmas.

• Freezing and storing. Freeze the pork as soon as possible to ensure a high-quality end product. Separate the different cuts and package in suitable portion sizes. Wrap in the thickest possible plastic and exclude as much air as possible. The thicker the wrapping material, the more the meat will be protected against drying out. Label each packet clearly.

• Vacuum packaging is a great way to protect the quality of pork in the freezer and is highly recommended.

• Thawing. For best results, thaw pork cuts very slowly. Leaving frozen pork overnight in the fridge to defrost slowly will ensure a juicy end result. Never pour boiling water over frozen pork. If you need to thaw some pork in a hurry, use the “defrost” cycle of your microwave.

• Dry before you fry. Once defrosted, always pat the pork dry with paper towels. This is important for anything you want to fry, such as chops or steaks. Never season with salt before you start the cooking process. The salt will draw the juices out. Simply rub the dry chops with olive oil on both sides before frying or grilling. Use a moderately warm temperature. Don’t turn the pork with a fork as this will make holes in the meat, all the juices will run out and you’ll be left with a dry piece of pork.

• Insist on fresh. Always insist of fresh pork cuts, never frozen before you buy it. This will ensure that you get a good quality product which will not be dry.

How to cook a classic golden roast leg of pork

Calculate about 250 g of pork per person when you buy the roast. A 2 kg leg of pork will be enough for eight people. Get your butcher to score the skin. This makes beautiful, crisp crackling.

1 x leg of pork, 2 kg – 2,5 kg

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for rubbing

apple sauce for serving


Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Pat the leg of pork dry with kitchen paper. Score the skin at 2 cm intervals if not done yet. (Cut through the skin and outside fat layer on top with a very sharp knife.) Rub with salt, pepper and olive oil. Place open on a wire rack in an oven-roasting tin.

For every 500 g, roast the leg for 30 minutes.

At the end, add on 15 to 20 more minutes. The skin on top should be golden brown and crisp. You can use the oven grill for a little while to help this process. (Watch it and don’t brown it too much.)

You can slice potatoes thickly and put them in the roasting pan underneath the pork. They’ll be roasted and coated with lovely meat juices at the same time.

When done, remove the pork from the oven and leave in a warm place to rest for about 10 minutes. Carve thinly against the grain. Serve with apple sauce.

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