“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from to pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945
Winston Churchill once said something about dogs looking up to us, cats looking down on us, but pigs treat us as equals. I’m not sure if that raises the pigs prestige to ours or lowers us to theirs. Rather unfairly the word ‘pig’ has some rather dirty connotations because pigs are, well, dirty. Just add the word ‘pig’ onto the end of a sentence and you’ve got yourself an insult.
For all intents and purposes, we know what pigs are. A pig is an animal from the Suidae family and includes both domestic and wild pig, such as the boar and warthog, and are characterised by their even-toed hooves with all modern species originating from Old World Africa and Eurasia. Pigs have long been associated with the worst aspects of humanity. George Orwell transformed them into representations of Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky and Vyacheslav Molotov; that’s unfair on the pig, they didn’t choose to be communists. After committing the murder of Sharon Tate, the Manson family wrote the word ‘Pig’ in her blood on the door to her house in reference to The Beatles song ‘Piggies;’ again, that’s unfair on the pig to linked to the most evil aspects of humanity. In Lord of the Flies, William Golding had the marooned children worship the titular totem, a boars head on a stick and literal translation of the Hebrew word ‘Beelzebub’ – the devil itself.
Despite our attempts to belittle our Suid companion, they undeniably make for good eating, for those of us who eat meat and don’t follow any strict religious doctrine that is. The forbidden eating of pork is largely a Semitic issue. As omnivores that will eat anything without hesitation pigs were used in pre-sewage eras as communal waste disposal. A resourceful way to rid city and town streets of waste and excrement but, regardless of this reciprocal nature between human and animal, the pig was deemed unclean and not even worthy of religious sacrifice let alone consumption. In ancient Egypt, Set; the god of desert, storms, violence and disorder was often associated with pigs and depicted with the head of a pig like animal. After being defeated by the noble Horus, Set became vilified and swineherds banned from entering temples and from being eaten. Today, Jews and Muslims still view the consumption of pork as ultimate taboo. Judaism and Islam may not agree on much and have fought many a war but at least their disgust of the poor old pig can unite them.
In Europe, pork is essentially an institution. Given their resourceful eating habits and being easy to rear, pigs were ideal for small-holders and peasants throughout the Middle Ages. The pig would eat any waste provided to it and when properly fattened by winter, would be slaughtered and its meat preserved to sustain poor families through the hardships of winter and almost inevitable famine. Bristles, ear, trotters, skin, bones and blood – nothing would go to waste. People have been preserving meat for centuries, before the advent of refrigeration it was essential. The ancient Egyptians would cover meat in salt before burying it in the sand to preserve which worked will for meat, fish and the remains of nobility. Charcuterie is where the pig reigns supreme. Although any meat can go through the process of being cured, smoked or dried, it is most commonly associated with pork. In Britain; bacon, sausage and black pudding all feature on a traditional English breakfast. Bacon in particular is a British phenomenon. Many a Brit abroad will lament the lack of quality smoked bacon that we are accustomed to. Strange given that a large portion is imported from Denmark, a nation who themselves don’t eat bacon and only export it. American bacon differs from British bacon in that it is taken from the belly of the pig and has a much higher fat content and is what we would call streaky bacon, whereas British back bacon is taken from the loin and contains a small amount of belly. Canadian bacon is an entirely different matter and not worth mentioning in the same breath. Cured and glazed hams have been worth of any gathering throughout history. Maybe pigs treat us as equal because they have given both rich and poor meat worth eating for so long. Not bad for an animal that eats muck and is attributed to the worst of humankind.
Given the Middle Eastern spices of this marinade lamb would traditionally be used but religions loss is my gain. For the marinade blitz one red bell pepper, one red chilli, two cloves of garlic, a small handful fresh mint leaves, one teaspoon ground coriander, one teaspoon ground cumin, olive oil and salt and pepper together until you get a paste. Cover the pork chops and leave to marinade for at least two hours. For the tabouleh cook the lentils until tender and drain. Combine with chopped mint, one teaspoon ground cinnamon, one teaspoon ground all-spice, salt and pepper, olive oil and feta cheese. Heat the oven to 200°C. Heat a frying pan with a little oil, break the cauliflower into florets and fry until nicely coloured then add ground cumin, ground coriander and ground cinnamon before adding white wine, stock or just water till cooked. Finish with some chopped coriander or possibly some nuts or dried fruit for added interest. Meanwhile render out the fat of the pork chop in a hot pan and then fry on both sides until caramelised and golden before finish cooking in the oven to your liking – about five to ten minutes. The enemy of cooking white meat is dryness due to the lack of fat running through it so a little under is fine. Forget the old tales of undercooked pork, farmed pigs aren’t fed on a diet of human waste and remains so any old health risks regarding pork are neglected.