I remember the first time I ordered pork in a restaurant many years ago and the waiter asked me how I would like it cooked. “What?! Pork is always well-done, you idiot!” That’s what I was thinking, not what actually came out of my mouth. I think I simply said “well-done, please.” But, the conversation after the waiter left reflected the shock and awe of everyone at the table. Had there been a cosmic shift in which pigs somehow were reborn as cows? Because I believe that it is truly a crime to cook a steak or roast passed medium (unless it’s a slow-cooked pot roast), but why would one ever eat under-cooked pork? Was pork added to the list of high-risk food that was suddenly trendy to eat? This was in a high-end restaurant, so we didn’t think they would actually try to kill us with raw pork, but we were confused. Have you noticed that recipes now instruct you to pull pork out of the oven or off the heat at 145oF? Medium temperature for pork ranges from 145-150oF. So, pulling at 145oF will leave you with a perfectly medium piece of pork. Yes, that is a hot pink, juicy center like the one you’d enjoy in a fabulous ribeye steak or prime rib roast. So, what are they thinking?! Here’s the skinny on pink pork.
The recommended safe cooking temperature of pork used to be 160oF. This was recommended to ensure that the parasites and bacteria that cause trichinosis and salmonella, respectively, were killed during cooking. Changes in the way commercial pork is raised and fed have eliminated the threat of trichinosis, which is primarily the big concern that my grandparents and parents always talked about. And testing apparently has shown that at 145oF salmonella will be killed. So, in 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed its recommended minimum cooking temperature of pork to 145oF with a 3 minute resting period after being removed from the heat. This USDA change apparently reflects the temperature that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration had long before approved for restaurants serving pork. Interestingly, poultry still has a recommended safe cooking temperature of 165oF because salmonella is more abundant in poultry than pork. See these articles for more info: NBC News article and USA Today article.
Although pink pork is “safe,” if you are cooking for others you still must consider their preferences – whether they are house guests, family, or your clientele. We run a restaurant on campus several weeks each semester and while planning our menu one consideration was what temperature to cook the pork tenderloin. We are taught in the classroom to pull the pork at 145oF, but when it came to what our paying, traditional Southern customers would eat, Chef proclaimed “pink pork won’t sell!” We did pull the tenderloin at a medium-well temperature to retain some of the juiciness and we served it with a fig apricot demi-glace. It was awesome and it sold! Below is the method we used. Give it a try…maybe even pull your pork at 145oF? You will be amazed at the difference between the dry, grey pork roast you are used to and the new, juicy pink pork.
Pork Tenderloin w/ Fig Apricot Demi-Glace
Trimmed, pork tenderloin
- vegetable oil
- Fig Apricot Demi-Glace (see recipes below)
- Preheat your oven to 350oF.
- Season the tenderloin generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat vegetable oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan) in an oven safe sauté pan over high heat until oil is hot.
- Sear the tenderloin on all sides in the hot pan. If the meat does not sizzle when you first place it in the pan, the oil is not hot enough. You will know the meat is well seared on a side when it shakes loose from the bottom of the pan. High heat is the key, not a non-stick surface
- Place the pan in the oven and finish roasting the tenderloin until it reaches 145oF or desired doneness - 145 – 150oF for medium, 160 – 170oF for well-done. The tenderloin may take as little as 15-25 minutes to cook, so do not wait too long to check the temperature after putting into the oven.
- Let the tenderloin rest for 5-10 minutes prior to slicing. Serve with fig apricot demi-glace. See the plate above.
Fig Apricot Demi-Glace (Yield 1 Qt)
- 2 1/4 quarts beef stock – separated into 1 1/4 and 1 quart measurements
- 4 oz standard mirepoix: 2 oz onions, small diced; 1 oz celery, small diced; 1 oz carrots, small diced
- 2 oz vegetable oil or clarified butter
- 2 oz bread flour (use all-purpose if you don’t have bread flour)
- 2 oz tomato puree or tomato paste
- 1 standard sachet – 1 bay leaf, 10 whole peppercorns, 1 clove garlic, 8 parsley stems, 6 sprigs of thyme, 2 whole cloves, preferably wrapped in cheesecloth, but if not it is ok since sauce will be strained.
- Port or Madera sweet wine to taste
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- Fig Apricot Chutney to taste (see recipe below)
- Prepare a brown mother sauce by following steps 2-7.
- Heat oil or clarified butter in a large heavy bottomed sauce pot and add mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot mixture). Sauté mirepoix until vegetables begin to caramelize.
- Create a roux by adding flour into pot, whisking to ensure flour is mixed into oil. The consistency of the roux should be like wet sand. Continue cooking the roux over low heat, stirring with a spoon or spatula, until the roux turns light brown. Cool the roux slightly.
- Whisk in 1 1/4 quarts of cool beef stock slowly to dissolve the roux into the stock without lumping. Bring the sauce to a boil, beating it well.
- Add tomato puree and mix in completely.
- Add sachet and slowly simmer sauce for about 30 minutes or until reduced to 1 quart. Skim oil and scum from surface of sauce periodically.
- Strain brown sauce through chinois (fine mesh sieve) or a sieve lined with cheesecloth.
- Prepare a demi-glace by following steps 9 -10.
- Add brown sauce back to sauce pot and add remaining 1 quart of beef stock. Bring to a boil and reduce by half (i.e., until the sauce is reduced from 2 quarts of liquid to 1 quart of liquid).
- Add fig apricot chutney to demi-glace and season with salt, pepper, and wine until you are pleased with your masterpiece!
Fig Apricot Chutney (Yield 14 oz)
- 4 fl oz White Wine or champagne vinegar
- 1 1/2 oz sugar
- 6 oz pound dried fig, cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 6 oz pound dried apricot, cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 4 oz pound fresh pineapple, cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped fine
- 1/2 oz fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- Combine vinegar and sugar in stainless-steel sauce pan. Bring to a simmer, stir and simmer until sugar is dissolved.
- Add fruit to sauce pan and simmer until fruit is reconstituted and softened.
- Strain fruit and return the juices to the pan.
- Add the jalapeno, ginger, and spices to the juices in the pan and simmer until reduced into a syrup.
- Mixed the syrup with the fruit and refrigerate.