Since the 1990s, prime cuts of pork, like pork loin, have become as lean as boneless chicken. What lean pork retains is the mild, almost buttery taste that has always made a loin roast a favorite dish for family or company. Unlike some stronger-flavored meats which are best served with bland accompaniments, pork welcomes flavor challenges and contrasts. Bear this quality in mind when you choose a salad to go with pork loin.
Pork and Fruit
Traditional accompaniments to pork have aimed at cutting through the meat's fatty qualities, in taste, texture and actual fat content. While some fat adds flavor to meat, a high ratio of fat to meat can dull taste, resulting in boring blandness. Acids, like vinegar or citrus juices, balance the flavors in glazes or sauces. Pork is distinctive among meats in its affinity for fruit flavors. Tart fruits are a logical choice for a salad. A simple plate of orange slices alternated with onion rings or mandarin segments mixed with field greens accent pork's buttery qualities. Less acid fruits, like apples and pears, also make good salads, especially if dressings are both sweet and tart. An apple Waldorf salad, for example, offers apple sweetness, the mild saltiness of celery and nutty richness that echoes meat qualities without overwhelming balance. A sweet-and-sour dressing, rather than a creamy dressing, adds further contrast to the pork.
In northern and central Europe, pork dishes have traditionally been accompanied by vegetables with sweet-and-sour dressings. Although this practice began because it brightened the flavors of winter vegetables, it yields a variety of salad choices that contrast well with pork. Cabbage slaw with a vinaigrette, dried cranberries and caraway seed is only one option. Blanched carrots or beets and, of course, potatoes form the basis for other hearty full-flavored salads with touches of both sweetness and acidity. Thin-sliced cucumber can appear as traditional German gurkensalat or in combination with radishes, dressed with dill and sour cream. Combine the earthy tastes of winter vegetables with fresh herbs, like thyme, parsley and sage, for a new take on old dishes.
The prominence of pork in Asian cuisine suggests salads of crisp bok choy or snow peas and dressings with a soy-ginger base. Use fresh Asian vegetables from the supermarket and supplement them with canned water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and baby corn. Base salad choices on traditional stir-fry vegetables, and blanch or lightly steam asparagus, bok choy and broccoli for crisp, tender textures. Asian vegetables are classically crisp and dressings can be as simple as a dash of rice wine vinegar. Garnish vinegar-splashed cucumber ribbons with chopped scallions for a fresh, flavorful contrast to buttery pork roast.
Pork dishes throughout Latin America and the Caribbean balance salt, sweet and spicy flavors that translate well into salads. Use traditional salsas as a springboard for chopped salad combinations like tomato and mango or pineapple and avocado. These combinations gain their appeal from contrasting flavors and textures, one element of which may be a touch of jalapeno or other peppery heat. Ginger and allspice tend to be pungent rather than grassy, and simple fruit and vegetable combinations emphasize contrasts in color as well as taste. A salad of black beans, mango, red onion and crisp jicama sets the mild flavor and dense, even texture of pork loin against a range of contrasting flavors and textures.
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