If ever there was a time to go whole hog, Christmas is it.
A beautifully glazed ham will be on many holiday dinner tables, but the traditional ham is not the only pork option.
Pork provides a wealth of choices for holiday meals. There are hams for certain, both cured and fresh, that will serve a crowd. But there are a wide variety of roasts that will serve any size gathering. Pork loin, pork butt and even small pork tenderloins are excellent dinner options. Pork sausages, from kielbasa to hot Italian, work well for more casual gatherings too.
Pork is seasonal at this time of year, and while all meat prices are high these days, pound for pound pork remains more affordable than beef, particularly the high-end cuts of beef like tenderloin and rib roast that are favored at the holidays.
Denny Gray, owner of Al's Quality Market in Barberton, Ohio, and a specialty butcher and sausage maker, said pork is always a big seller at the holidays. Many folks stick to ham or sausages for their gatherings, particularly those who are keeping ethnic traditions.
But the rest of the hog offers plenty of options too.
Gray said a crown roast of pork, made by shaping together pork rib roasts into a crown shape, is popular at Christmas and on New Year's, when many cooks like to stuff the center with sauerkraut.
Vermont cooking teacher Molly Stevens, in her book "All About Roasting," offers an alternative to the crown roast.
Crown roasts can be difficult to fit into a roasting pan and don't always cook evenly because of their shape. Stuffing the center only makes even roasting more problematic, she writes.
Rather than curving the roasts into a crown shape, Stevens arranges them side by side in a roasting pan and interlaces their rib bones to give them the appearance of two rows of honor guards with their swords raised and crossed to form a pathway.
For a smaller crowd, don't overlook pork tenderloins, which can be pounded, stuffed, rolled and roasted for a holiday presentation. Because they are small and lean, a pair to serve six will roast in under an hour.
Another cut Gray recommends is the pork butt, which, despite its name, is actually the shoulder. Often this cut, due to its size, is used for slow cooking and shredding for dishes like pulled pork. But Gray said with its bone removed, it is a fine cut for slow-roasting until it is falling-apart tender.
Hungarian pork shoulder
Serves 10 to 12
1 pork butt (shoulder), boned, about 8 pounds
Salt and pepper, to taste
Have your butcher debone the pork butt for you. Season it liberally with salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder on all sides.
Tie up roast using butcher's twine.
Cover and roast at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes per pound (about 3 hours).
This recipe is from Denny Gray of Al's Quality Market in Barberton, Ohio.
Stuffed pork tenderloin
2 pork tenderloins, about 2½ pounds total weight)
1 pound bulk mild pork sausage
6 cups dried bread cubes
1½ cups low-sodium chicken or beef broth
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
Leaves of 1 sprig fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
With a sharp knife, remove silver skin from each tenderloin, then slice each tenderloin lengthwise to butterfly it, being careful not to cut completely through the meat. You don't want to cut the tenderloin in two. Working one at a time, place each butterflied tenderloin between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap, place on a cutting board, and using a meat mallet, pound until meat is an even thickness of less than ½ inch.
Season inside and out with salt and pepper and set aside.
In a skillet over medium heat, brown sausage until no longer pink, breaking up with spatula until it is even brown crumbles. Drain.
In a large bowl, combine bread cubes, cooked sausage, celery, onion, sage, thyme and parsley. Mix well. Add broth, ½ cup at a time, mixing stuffing after each addition and breaking up bread as you go until stuffing is soft and holds together well.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Fill the center of each tenderloin lengthwise with stuffing, overlapping meat to close seam and tucking in ends. Use cotton butcher's twine to tie up tenderloin, making about five or six ties down the length of the tenderloin.
Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to a very large skillet or a roasting pan set over two burners on stovetop. Set burners to medium-high and sear tenderloins on all sides, turning them carefully so stuffing does not come loose.
When brown on all sides, cover roaster with foil (or transfer to roasting pan if using a skillet) and roast in 375-degree oven, for 30 minutes. Uncover and roast an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until internal temperature of thickest part of pork reaches 145 degrees when checked on an instant-read thermometer. Be careful to check temperature of meat closest to stuffing, as this area tends to cook more slowly than the outside.
When done, remove from oven. Cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove twine. Slice into circles and serve.
This recipe is from Lisa Abraham of the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio).