Pork Neck Steaks
With Apple, Sage Brown Butter, & Roasted Radishes
I was going to say a lot of things about meat in this post. Then two things happened: 1, I started to realize that I had waaaaaay too much to say in such a small space, and 2, a glitch deleted all of my writing. So I’ve decided to roll with the punches and to narrow my focus a little bit. So instead of spending all day on meat, we’re just going to go for the bare bones (forgive me).
Those of you who have followed Diversivore since its inception in January of 2016 have probably noticed that I don’t focus terribly heavily on meat. I love meat, and I love cooking with it, but I also believe that it’s important that we reconsider our approach to it in terms of cooking and consumption. I’d love to spend some time talking about why that is exactly (and I hope to do so in the future), but the initial outline and research I did before starting this post was threatening to turn this into a massive post. Suffice it to say that there are serious environmental, health, ethical, and economic concerns surrounding the meat-heavy North American diet. And while North Americans are eating a lot of meat, the issue is a global one too, with the demand for meat rising in countries like India and China. I simply can’t get into the complexity of the issues at hand here, but I’ve been pushing myself to eat less meat and more vegetables, grains, pulses, etc. But if you saw my recent roundup features on sustainable seafood, you’ll know that when I do talk about and cook with meat, I try to bring a discussion about sustainability to the table.
Like many people, I spent many years simply viewing meat as a commodity and recipe component, to be picked up at the grocery store as needed. I had a decent sense of where meat came from, but I never really gave it much thought. But I started thinking about it, and I started talking to people – farmers, butchers, vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians – and I decided that I wanted to start changing things. To put a somewhat oversimplified spin on things, I want to eat good meat, less often. ‘Good’ is of course a relative term, but for me it touches on several key points over and above quality (each of which warrants a lot more discussion, which is why this post very nearly got away from me). First of all, I want meat that has been raised and processed ethically and sustainably. Second, I want my meat to support the farmer/producer as much as possible, and not a series of intermediaries or corporate entities. Third, I want my meat to be as local as possible, primarily for economic and environmental reasons. Fourth, I want to minimize waste, and I want to support producers embracing this mentality.
While I reign it in and try to resist the urge to talk about each and every one of those points here, I will say that you can expect to see meat recipes that focus on those concepts. That also means you can expect to see me singing the praises of people like the ones behind Urban Digs Farm. I first noticed Urban Digs last year when I was researching community sponsored agriculture (CSA) programs in the Vancouver area. Urban Digs provides plenty of amazing CSA veggies, but what I found interesting was the fact that they also provide meat. I did a bit of digging and chatted with a few of the folks working there and I came away very impressed (prepare to be impressed too – they’ve given me a promo code for you to use for online orders). Basically, they’re producing meat that hits all of those points I brought up earlier – Urban Digs is raising and processing their own livestock with incredible regard for the animals (both as they live and when they’re slaughtered). You might not find a lot of meat producers who say this kind of thing, but they’d like to see people eating LESS meat, but really caring about where it comes from and how it’s been raised. I like to refer to it as the “meat is a treat” mentality; i.e. meat shouldn’t be consumed simply as a given, but as something special. As you’d no doubt expect, you pay more for this kind of product than you do for meat at the average grocery store. This economic stumbling block is a big one (especially for those who struggle to afford good food), but much of this has to do with just how unsustainable cheap meat really is. I don’t want to sound like an elitist with little regard for the farmers involved in larger industrial production – rather I would like to see a system in which we as consumers change our approach to eating meat so that more and more producers can make a good living the way that Urban Digs (and others) do. Ideally, I’d love to see a system in which meat producers are able to make more money from fewer animals, allowing them to circumvent the harsh demands and limitations of our current system. The market is driven by consumer demand, so if we continue to demand cheap meat, the market will continue to produce it in any way it can, even if that way is to the detriment of the planet, farmers, or consumers themselves. I’m not going to tell anyone what to do, or what to eat – but I hope that everyone who truly cares about food will at least ask themselves what drives their meat-eating habits, and what elements of the system deserve their attention and consideration.
This is a pretty simple meal to make, and the instructions I’ve given below will guide you through quite nicely, but I will include a few little notes about the ingredients used here.
Wait, Pork Neck Steaks?
Yep, they’re pretty much just what they sound like – a boneless cut from high on the shoulder where you would imagine a pig’s neck to be (because, you know, they don’t really have a neck to speak of). There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of this cut of meat, but you’re going to be very glad that you have now. Urban Digs themselves do a lovely job of explaining this cut, but think of it like a beautifully marbled, deeply flavoured, fairly dark pork chop. If you’re in Vancouver (or the area) I think you know where you can get it, but for the rest of you, try asking a good local butcher. If you can’t find neck steaks, you could easily substitute a very good quality (and preferably heirloom, ethically sourced) standard pork chop.
Apples and Radishes
The gorgeous Pink Pearl apples add incredible colour and character to this dish, but don’t be concerned if you can’t find them – any good quality, relatively firm, sweet/tangy apple will work nicely. I also garnished with fresh Ashmead’s Kernel apples (in keeping with my apple theme), but you could use the same apple for this too. For more on these apples and this feature, see the section below the next photo.
I used slender French breakfast radishes here, but any small red radish will work very nicely.
Sage is a lovely ingredient, but it’s a powerful one too, so use it sparingly. The instructions below tell you how to fry the leaves to make a lovely, crispy garnish, but don’t be tempted to skip out on that step and use raw sage instead. While it’s lovely to look at, raw sage has an overwhelming flavour that’s generally not a fan favourite, and certainly wouldn’t be welcome in this dish.
Urban Digs Promo Code
The lovely folks at Urban Digs Farms have given me a promo code to extend to my readers in the Greater Vancouver area. If you’re lucky enough to be in the Lower Mainland/Greater Vancouver Area, you can use the code below to get $5 off any order over $25.
promo code: diversivore5
If you’ve never shopped with Urban Digs, it’s either a pickup or delivery system, depending on how much you order and where you live. You can look through the web store and read the “How It Works” section for more information. You can also shop in person at their butcher shop, weekdays from 12-6 at 9247 Shaughnessy St., Vancouver, at both Winter Farmer’s Markets (as well as a variety of summer markets). You can order a la carte if you want to try a few things out, or subscribe to a variety of very flexible CSA models.
For the record, while I’m very happy to extend this discount to you fine folks, I should say that this is NOT a sponsored post – I wasn’t compensated with product or money while preparing this post, and I don’t see a commission on any referrals. I bought my own pork, loved it, and wanted to share just how great I think these folks are.
This recipe is part of a series highlighting the flavour and versatility of little-known and underappreciated apple varieties.
There has been a growing interest in rediscovering forgotten heirloom apples, as well as a resurgent interest in growing and marketing new hybrid varieties. Apples were once once of the most important and varied fruits in both North America and Europe, but large-scale commercialization favoured a handful of attractive, easy-to-grow apples with long shelf lives. But the longest lasting apples aren’t necessarily the best or most interesting ones, and chefs, farmers, and apple enthusiasts around the world are working to give some of these forgotten apples the exposure they deserve. This little feature is my contribution to that worthy cause.
I already spoke about both of the apples I used here in other recipes, but I’ll give a quick summary. Pink Pearls (used here as part of a charcuterie plate) are a beautifully coloured apple with a golden yellow exterior and a pink interior. This is thanks to cross-breeding efforts and genetic intermingling with a ruby-fleshed Asian crabapple known as Niedzwetsky’s Apple (Malus niedzwetskyana). This makes the Pink Pearl one of the delightfully named ‘applecrabs’ (domestic apples with some degree of crabapple parentage). They have a fairly short season, arriving early in the fall and lasting for a few months at most. Pink Pearls were developed in California, and tend to grow best up and down the Pacific Coast (up to and including British Columbia).
Ashmead’s Kernel is a very old (early 18th century) heirloom apple from England, and one of my absolute favourites. I also used them to make apple and dewberry puff pastry tarts. The brilliant, sweetly tart white flesh will brown fairly quickly though, so don’t cut them to use as garnish until you’re ready to serve (or brush the cut surface with a bit of lemon juice and water).
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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