Pork Neck Steaks
With Apple, Sage Brown Butter, & Roasted Radishes
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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 Blue Sky Ranch (formerly Urban Digs Farm). I first noticed Blue Sky last year when I was researching community sponsored agriculture (CSA) programs in the Vancouver area. Blue Sky started out as a CSA veggie provider, but has morphed (and filled a wonderful market niche) into a CSA focused on sustainable and ethically-raised 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 – Blue Sky 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 Blue Sky (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. Blue Sky 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.
Blue Sky 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 Blue Sky, 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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A 30-minute recipe that puts a spin on the classic pork & apple combination with neck steak, sage browned butter, Pink Pearl apples, and roasted radishes.
- 375 g pork neck steaks (see note)
- 1/2 tsp white pepper preferably freshly ground
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/8 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 bunch radishes (about 225 g)
- 1 tbsp sage leaves slightly bruised
- 1 tsp chopped sage or very small sage leaves
- 1 bunch radish greens
- 1 pink pearl apple (see note)
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp red wine
- pinch ground cardamom
- pinch ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup red wine to deglaze the pan and finish the sauce
- apple to garnish (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400° F (200° C). Salt the steaks liberally and set them aside for 5 minutes.
Clean and chop the radishes into bite-size pieces (make sure to clean the greens and set them aside too). Toss them with 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar and set aside.
Mix pepper, coriander, and cumin and thoroughly combine. Rub the mixture gently into both sides of each steak.
Melt the butter over medium heat in an oven-safe skillet. Once the butter is just melted, add the sage leaves. Saute until the butter is browned and the sage is crispy. Remove the sage with a slotted spoon and set aside (the leaves can be used to garnish later).
Add the steaks to the hot butter and cook until the steaks are well browned (about 2 minutes). Flip the steaks and brown the other side.
Once the steaks are nicely browned (but not cooked through), add the radishes to the pan, scattering them around the steaks as much as possible. Place the pan in the oven. At this point, you can start cooking the apples (see next set of instructions).
Cook until the pork reaches a nice medium cook (70 °C or 158 °F). How long this takes will depend on how long you seared the steaks and on the evenness/accuracy of your oven, but count on at least 4-5 minutes. I recommend using a temperature probe to make things easier.
Remove the pan from the oven and take the steaks out of the pan. Set them aside to rest. Add the radish greens to the pan, mix with the radishes, and return to the oven for about 2 minutes, or until the greens are soft but not mushy. Remove the pan from the oven again and set aside to cool.
Combine apple cider vinegar, honey, 1 tsp of red wine, cardamom, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Cut the apple into medium (3/4 cm [1/4 inch]) slices. There's no need to peel the apples, but they can be cored/seeded if you like. Gently toss the apples with the vinegar/honey mixture and set aside.
Once the pork steaks are in the oven (see above), heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tsp of butter and melt, swirling to coat the pan. Remove the sliced apples from the vinegar mixture and carefully add them to the pan, taking care not to overlap them. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the vinegar mixture and cook until the liquid is very thick and syrupy.
Use a spatula to carefully remove the apples from the pan (they'll be soft and will break easily) and set them aside. Increase the heat to medium-high. Pour the 1/4 cup of wine into the pan to deglaze. Once the wine is reduced by about 1/2, pour the brown butter from the other skillet into this pan. Combine the ingredients and continue to reduce for about 1-2 minutes, or until the sauce is thick, glossy, and rich. Adjust salt to taste if necessary and set aside. (Note: if your timing is a little off and you reach this point before the radishes are done cooking, just remove the apple skillet from heat and set aside until you're ready to start again. When you are ready, heat the pan again before adding wine).
Serve pork over a layer of apples and with a side of radishes and greens. Drizzle the sauce over all of the ingredients and serve with a few slices of fresh apple as well.
Pork neck steaks are not common in North America, but they’re pretty much what they sound like – a boneless cut from high on the shoulder in the neck area. It's an amazingly marbled, flavourful cut of meat, and it's easy to work with. Try asking a good butcher or local pork producer for it.
Pink Pearl apples are a beautiful, pink-fleshed apple developed in 1946. It's a hybrid of a conventional apple and a red crabapple, and it has a nice sweet/tart flavour. It can be very hard to find, but you can easily substitute any relatively firm, sweet/tart apple in its place.