In advance of his upcoming Demo Kitchen appearance, Ed Smith explores the surprising versatility of pork collar
Among British home cooks there is, I think, an increasing understanding of the different meat cuts, and how we should cook them. This is in part due to a trend over recent years of promoting ‘low and slow’ cooking—for pulled pork, brisket and so on.
We’re now accustomed to being told that hard-working meats, full of intramuscular fat, sinew and knotted protein, should be cooked gently over a long period of time to ensure they fall apart at the touch of a fork, oozing juices and gelatine at the same time. Think, in this instance, of pork butt, neck, hock and belly; beef shin and flank; lamb shoulder and breast.
By contrast, lazy (and lean) cuts should be cooked as quick as possible, with high heat to char the edges while the tender insides remain pink. Loin, fillets and ‘best end’ are the cuts that need only a brief introduction to the heat source.
Cooked both ways
As with all seemingly simple solutions, however, the more you look into the detail, the more you realise that simple solutions are never flawless: there are many cuts of meats that can be cooked both ways.
Featherblade steak, for example, is the cut used for a daube of beef, and should be gently stewed or braised for best results… unless of course it’s cut thin and cooked rare, or even chopped into a raw tartare.
Pork collar is another case in point. This is something butchers can ‘seam’ whole from the base of a pig’s neck. It may be the hardest working muscle on a pig—which of course spend their life neck down, snuffling around the ground or trough for food. As such the (tough) muscle protein is intensely coloured and flavoured, and it’s rippled with rivers of fat. So, ordinarily, collar is something used for stews, minced or roasted whole, very slowly.
Tender and luscious
Yet, cut thick across the grain, and given the right treatment, pork collar can make rib-eye quality steaks too. Cooked relatively quickly to the equivalent of medium-rare (so that the middle is still rouge, but the fat has rendered) they’re tender, luscious, and so full of flavour.
They can only be treated like steaks, though, if the sinewy, tough protein has been broken down beforehand. Marinades can work (the proteinase in pineapple and papaya juices are particular effective), but I’m a fan of salt—a brine helps to break down the protein in advance, and makes that faster cook possible. It also provides an opportunity to subtly push seasoning and aromatics into the meat.
During my lunchtime demo in the Market Hall on Thursday 24th August, I’ll work through the brining process and, with a few steaks that’ve had the “here’s one I brined earlier” treatment, will show how you can make pork collar the centre of three very different meals: paprika pork collar and clams; collar steak with chard and butternut squash purée; and collar steak with roots, yoghurts, seeds and bitter leaves. Basically, great pork, and great sides. See you there?