Pork: the easy, inexpensive, elegant meat
We chefs enjoy a unique perspective on the way people eat. As well as playing our part in creating trends, we just as often observe how public opinions change on particular ingredients, food combinations and cooking styles. We know what people love to eat, and what foods they might be avoiding. And, over the course of years and decades, we see things come and go -- and often come back again.
I've always been fascinated to follow how people's tastes have evolved regarding pork, for example. For me, it's a personal interest that dates all the way back to my childhood. We lived a modest life in our little home in Austria, not far from the Italian border, and one of the indications of how carefully my mother and grandmother budgeted could be seen in the meat they prepared.
When you mention Austrian cooking, of course, most people think of goulashes or schnitzels, two dishes with which Americans usually associate veal. But in our house, they were almost always prepared using pork, which cost far less and could be found easily in our town.
So, when I came to America some four decades ago, I was surprised to find that many people seemed wary of pork. They worried about how fatty it was and about food-borne illnesses you might get from undercooked pork. Sure, families prepared pork roasts or baked hams for special holiday meals, ate bacon and sausages for breakfast, or threw chops or ribs on the grill in summer. But if you mentioned cooking pork for an elegant dinner party, or ordering it in a fine restaurant, people looked at you with surprise.
Today, of course, those attitudes have largely changed. Modern breeding and processing bring safe, lean pork to our markets. Meanwhile, popular diets like paleo actually recognize pork as a healthy choice. No surprise, then, that pork now appears on more fine dining menus; and more people happily order it.
With that in mind, I'd like to share one of my longtime favorite recipes for a simple-to-prepare yet elegant pork dish that will win you raves. It features pork medallions: thick, round, boneless slices cut from the tenderloin. You can buy the tenderloin whole and easily cut it into medallions yourself, or ask the butcher to do it for you. Simply seasoned with salt and pepper and lightly dusted with flour, the medallions cook on the stovetop in a matter of minutes, and are then served in a fruity riesling wine-based sauce in which you've also marinated fresh grapes that stud the dish.
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It makes good culinary sense to enjoy a glass of riesling along with this dish -- and to toast the enduring pleasures of pork!
SAUTEED PORK MEDALLIONS WITH RIESLING-MARINATED GRAPES
1/2 pound (500 g) seedless grapes, stemmed