Since the popularization of beef tartare in the 1950s and sushi in the 1980s, raw animal products have been a widely accepted luxury item in the US. But historically, raw pork was seldom, if ever, seen on menus, even in the most adventurous of nose-to-tail restaurants. In fact, there’s no other non-poultry meat that is so insistently served well-done. Recently, though, that’s started to change, albeit slowly and with great resistance.
“I’ve been serving and eating pork raw for years,” says California chef Chris Cosentino. “Pork has really nice intramuscular fat, so it has a great mouthfeel.” He serves a pork crudo, dressed simply with olive oil, Meyer lemon, mint, and radish, at his Los Angeles restaurant, Pigg. Meanwhile, at The Black Hoof in Toronto, a pork carpaccio is plated with maple blossoms (turns out they’re edible, too!), pine nuts, and pickled onions. And across the pond, at London’s Taberna do Mercado, pork tartare regularly makes its way onto the seasonal menu.
Raw pork may still be a restaurant rarity, but increasing numbers of chefs are starting to serve their pork cooked to medium-rare. Then again, many of them acknowledge that even faintly pink pork seems to freak the hell out of their diners.
The question is, should it?
Maybe? I mean, as much as I love rare beef and raw fish, I always thought that raw or rare pork was a good way to die. Was I wrong? Evidently.
The biggest misconception about raw pork isn’t necessarily that it’s dangerous, because, well, it can be. But exactly how dangerous it is—and why—is another matter entirely. Considering that the word “trichinosis” has been drilled into us since our childhoods, you might be surprised to learn that it’s a virtually nonexistent risk. Trichinosis is a disease caused by roundworms of the Trichinella genus. It is horrible and repulsive, if not usually fatal; this is a worm we’re talking about, after all. But it is also incredibly uncommon in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found only 84 confirmed cases in the five inclusive years between 2008 and 2012—none fatal—and, interestingly, only 22 of those could be traced to pork. (Game seems to be much more affected by trichinosis than pork, so you may want to think twice before digging into a bear-meat tartare.)
It’s cliché to say, but you are significantly more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than afflicted by even a nonfatal round of trichinosis, at least in the United States. (Results from other countries vary; the USDA says that trichinosis is essentially extinct in countries like Denmark and The Netherlands, but in many countries it’s more common. China is usually good for a few outbreaks each year, and in some provinces, especially in the west, the incidence is as high as 4% of the total population.)
I may need more than one foodie article to convince me to try this. Thoughts? And if you are of the grilling type on Decoration Day, does this mean you are going to throw some pork on just to get it seared on the outside and serve it pink to the kids?