Generous to the cook, the provider of belly and bacon, an animal that is a celebration of the wonders of fat, flesh and flavour. While there can be distinctions between the breeds in terms of fat to flesh ratios and size of cuts, the culinary outlines for each cut apply to any good quality, outdoor reared pig.
While gruesome to some, the head is full of rich, fatty and gelatinous goodness. Although people say you can eat everything except the squeak, the eyeballs – albeit edible – aren’t something we recommend you hurry to try, though the rest of the head provides rich pickings.
Whole: split in half, and either slow roast until lip-stickingly tender or simmer in water with bay leaves, stock vegetables and herbs until soft, pick the meat from the bones and set in a terrine with the reduced cooking liquid (which will have jellified) to make brawn. Ears: simmer to soften, slice, then breadcrumb and deep fry until crisp. Cheek/jowl: a sweet nugget of tasty meat. Requires long, slow cooking thanks to the work it does. Can be salt cured, simmered then bread-crumbed and fried for bath chaps. Snout: not often cooked on its own, usually included in recipe for brawn or roast head. It does yield a small amount of luscious tasty meat, and can be simmered until tender, then – again – sliced, bread-crumbed and deep-fried
An underused and underrated cut, which often ends up in sausages and as mince. It presents just the right amount of muscle and fat to provide a small and tasty roast.
Well suited to a sticky, Asian-style slow roast, to produce a finish similar to pork belly. Can also be deboned, thinly sliced, marinated and cooked quickly on the grill, or barbeque for around eight minutes turning every two or three.
The hardworking part of the pig; webbed with fat and connective tissue, making it a brilliantly juicy cut if slowly cooked. It can be slow or pot roasted, casseroled or minced. If you want to serve roast pork at a big family gathering, a whole shoulder (and almost a day of roasting) is what you need.
Slowly does it, whether roasting or casseroling. Whole shoulder: set the oven to high, score and lightly season the skin and blast for the first 20 minutes. Turn down to 140°C or Gas Mark 1 for 6-8 hours, depending on the size of the joint. You should have soft flesh that pulls easily apart and crisp crackling. Mince: although meatballs and sausages can cook fairly quickly, you will get best results from a slow braise, or by gently poaching sausages before grilling or frying.
Blade of pork
A small, flat cut from the top of the shoulder left on the blade bone of the shoulder. Covered in a layer of skin so great for crackling.
As with the whole shoulder, a hot blast followed by a long slow roast. This small cut makes the perfect Sunday roast for 2-4 people, and so only needs slow roasting for around three hours.
Cut from the upper part of the shoulder, a rack of four or five ribs. Tasty, sweet and succulent due to the generous amount marbled fat and connective tissue, which breaks down during slow cooking. Versatile and economical.
Cook as a whole rack or individual ribs. Marinade in something sweet and sticky, before roasting at a low temperature until the meat is extremely tender. You can finish them off on the barbeque for a crispy finish and smoky taste.
A chunky, almost triangular and slightly funny-looking but delicious cut, which comes from the lower part of the shoulder/upper part of the front leg, Will serve two to three as a roast.
Slow roast, braise with vegetables or mince to use in pies, terrines or sausages. A good first go at ham curing due to its economical price tag and small size.
One of the pig’s little gifts to the cook. The small triangular cut from just above the trotter, with just enough meat for a stew for two. In its cured form, it provides a hefty whack of flavour, enough to enhance a lentil or bean soup for six.
Braise slowly with pulses, stock vegetables and plenty of liquid, then pull the flesh from the bone to add back to the pan. Can be marinated and slow roasted until tender, too.
The fore end of the loin is slightly fattier than the back, however still provides the neat eye of meat for which the loin is generally desired – essentially the fore rib of pork, if you draw a comparison to beef. The ends of the bones can be French-trimmed to present an impressive and tasty roast rack of pork, separated into cutlets or boned and rolled into a neat, round roasting joint with an eye of meat and a covering of fat and skin.
As a rack joint: score and salt the skin then start in a hot oven to get the crackling going. After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 170°C and roast for a further 45 minutes per 500g, or until cooked through. Cutlets: fry, grill or barbeque for around eight minutes, turning every two or three. Boned and rolled: score and salt the skin, roast in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 170°C and roast for a further a further 20 minutes per 500g or until cooked through.
Loin from the middle of the pig’s back; an area safe from any hard work and so about as lean as this fatty animal will get. Produces an excellent roasting joint – particularly on the bone – plus wonderful, meaty pork chops.
Chops: bake or pot roast at a low temperature for really tasty, tender chops, or grill to get crispy fat. Loin on the bone: score and salt the skin then start in a hot oven to get the crackling going. After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 170°C and roast for a further 35 minutes per 500g, or until cooked through. Chump end: makes excellent, tender, meaty chops, which should be fried and finished in the oven or grilled.
The lean, tapered ‘tail’ of meat taken from the other side of the rib to the loin chop. Essentially the fillet of pork.
Very lean so be careful about overcooking, but otherwise a versatile cut suited to quick cooking. Cut into large discs and sear until just cooked to serve with a creamy mustard sauce, or butterfly, stuff, wrap in prosciutto and roast for 20 minutes.
Once a thrifty secret, now the favourite cut of chefs and home cooks alike. Its fat-rich composition makes it a fantastic addition to sausages and pies, but it is in its slow-roasted form that this cut really shines. It is extremely rich meaning that a little goes a long way, and so even at its currently popular height, it is an economical roast.
Thin end: the thinner end with no bones. Square off the piece of meat, then lay a stuffing – anything from Asian spices to a Mediterranean mix of sundried tomatoes, capers and olives – down the centre. Roll the two sides together to form a fat horseshoe and secure with string. Start in a hot oven for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 150°C and roast for three hours.
Thick end: leave on the bone and use the roasting times and temperatures above.
The rump is a large lean muscle that is tasty when roasted but lacks the fat – and therefore the forgiveness in the kitchen – of many other cuts so shouldn’t be overcooked. It makes fantastic escalopes and other quick cooking items.
Ask your butcher for thin slices to make breaded escalopes, pork cordon bleu or nice lean pork steaks to fry, or cube and marinate for tasty BBQ skewers.
A classic roasting cut which has fallen out of favour. Another fairly lean cut which needs careful cooking, but a leg of good quality pork won’t dry out as some people think. Due to its heft, it can be wise to opt for a boneless joint to speed up the cooking a little to avoid drying out – but it can be roasted on the bone for a big gathering.
Whole on the bone: super low and slow does it. Twenty minutes on high then 4-6 hours at 140°C with a glass of wine, water or cider and some stock vegetables in the roasting pan.
Boned and rolled; this cut makes a great pot roast or braise. Place into a lidded pot with stock vegetables, a splash of water and some bay leaves. Put the lid on the pot, and roast in the oven at 150°C for three hours.
Leg steaks: leg steak should be nice and thin, and fried or grilled quickly so as not to dry out.
A cartilaginous, gelatinous and rich addition to the stockpot. The simmered tail can be bread crumbed and deep-fried so the wobbly, soft flesh can be prized off with your teeth.
The best source of gelatin, which is essential for a hot-water pastry pork pie. Ensure that your butcher has cleaned the trotter properly, as it can be a bit tricky to do at home.
Jellied stock: cover two trotters with three pints of water and simmer very gently with herbs and vegetables for three hours, skimming impurities off the surface. Strain, discarding the solids, and reduce the resulting liquid by a third to a half depending on how solid you need it to set, and season to taste. When seasoning, make the jelly slightly over rather than under salted, as it looses a little flavour when chilled. The trotter can be carefully deboned and stuffed, however this requires a lot of time and skill, and is generally only attempted in the kitchens of Michellin starred chefs and very keen enthusiasts.
Pork liver has a very strong flavour and is extremely rich in iron. Even the most dedicated of liver eaters may find pork liver a bit too feisty, though smallish amounts are added to faggots, pates and terrines to give flavour and depth. The liver needs to be trimmed of any membrane or grainy bits.
Kidneys can be a real treat, though need to be thoroughly cleaned and from a quality pig to avoid the taste of ammonia. If you buy them whole, ensure you remove any membrane trim out the white gristly centre before cooking.
Devilled: chop the prepared kidneys into large chunks. Season them then sear in a hot pan with a little butter. Add to the pan a good shake of cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of redcurrant or damson jelly, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, 1tbsp Dijon mustard, 1tsp red wine vinegar and a little pepper. Cook for 1 minutes, then add a splash of double cream and season to taste, then serve on toast.
There are three types of fat to be gathered from the pig, each with its own use to the cook.
The firm, white, creamy fat from beneath the skin of the pig, which forms the crust below the skin in crackling or scratchings. This firm fat is essential for sausage making, as it doesn’t get broken down in production, instead softening in the pan to baste the meat from the inside while retaining some of its shape instead of melting away into the pan.
Take from the inside of the carcass, from the loin areas around the kidneys. Render to make lard.
A web-like membrane of fat obtained from around the internal organs. Used as a casing for faggots and as a protective basting layer in which to bake terrines. The original casing for sausages.
BACON & GAMMON CUTS
From the lower part of the leg, just above the trotter, sold either green or smoked. A very economical and sweet cut, perfect for terrines – the cut for making a classic jambon persille. As with its fresh counterpart, this cut needs gently simmering for at least two hours, before the meat can be flaked away from the bone. Never, ever throw away the simmering stock, as it is an excellent base for soups.
While a fresh pork leg can make a handsome roast, it is in its cured form that the leg really shines – ham. Traditionally English hams were heavily dry cured in salt so that they were adequately preserved, however the invention of colder curing methods allow for the use of a brine, making for a quicker, gentler and more even cure. We simmer ours then bake it with a sweet glaze, studded with cloves if it’s a special occasion.
From the top of the rump of the pig; the joint for the home chef if you wish to cook your own ham. For a small, tidy joint, you can ask for a slipper or corner gammon, where the leg meets the rump. Can be cut into thick slices for gammon steaks to grill or fry.
Rinse the gammon in cold water. Pour one inch of boiling water into a baking tin. Place the gammon on a rack in the tin, making sure the water doesn’t touch the meat. Loosely cover the gammon with foil but ensure the foil is airtight. Bake at 180˚C/ 350˚F/ Mark 4 for 45 minutes per kilo. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, remove the skin (but not the fat), criss-cross the fat, cover with honey mixed with mustard or your favourite marmalade mixed with a little orange juice and place in a hot oven for 20 minutes to glaze.
SHORT BACK BACON
Often considered the premium bacon cut in the UK, taken from the back of the loin where there’s a nice big eye of meat and a slightly smaller layer of fat. If left on the bone, the loin can be cured for nice big bacon chops for grilling.
LONG BACK BACON
Cut from the middle of the back and encompassing the best of both back and streaky bacon; the fat and flavour benefit of a little streaky with an eye of leaner meat too.
Although the cheaper option, often the foodie favourite. Taken from the belly of the animal, a boneless bacon cut with plenty of fat to get really crispy bacon. Slow roast a whole piece and serve with home-baked beans for a real treat.
SHOULDER OR COLLAR
Collar of bacon is a sweet, economical cut, which needs to be thinly sliced if used in the same way as back or streaky bacon – as it often is in the catering trade. Boned and rolled this makes a classic boiling ham joint, to be served warm straight from the pot, with parsley sauce and peas.
CHEEK / JOWL
Known as guaciale in Italy, cheek must be finely sliced if it is to be grilled or fried as a bacon cut. A cured cheek is a good addition to a bean or lentil soup. We tend to slow cook them in fat to make a cured pig cheek pate.
A small cut from the hard working shoulder, which needs long simmering to break down the muscular tissue. Sometimes known as a poor man’s ham for this reason.