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Who’s Ready for Some Pork Sashimi?

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Hmmm….

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?

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  • Vance Maverick

    It is horrible and repulsive, if not usually fatal; this is a worm we’re talking about, after all.

    That’s some really meretricious rhetoric there. I wouldn’t trust another word from this writer.

    • rea

      It’s true, the language you quote could only be written by an unregenerate scoleciphobe.

  • Richard Hershberger

    The rarity of trichinosis has long been my understanding, at least for pork in the US. It is the desirable mouth feel I question.

    • leftwingfox

      Same. I under-cook my pork according to federal guidelines (About 160F) but raw? NOPE.

      • narciblog

        USDA says safe minimum temps for pork are 140-145 F. I think they were recently reduced because the risk from trichinosis is so small.

        http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html

        • leftwingfox

          Heh, that hasn’t carried over to the markings on thermometers yet. Good to know though. :)

        • I loathed pork chops as a kid, partly because my dad would trim all the fat off them (it was the ’90s) and partly because he cooked them until any hint of pink was gone. Sometimes employing the microwave for this purpose. And he used salt incredibly sparingly.

          It was something of a revelatory experience to, years later, eat a pork chop that was cooked to 140F (and properly seasoned).

      • If you cook it sous vide for long enough it will pasteurize and you can safely cook it at a fairly low temp.

    • ThrottleJockey

      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.

      Might the fact that it is incredibly rare have something to do with the fact that its also incredibly rare to eat raw pork in this country???

      Just a thought…

      • mikeSchilling

        That’s as silly as saying that the absence of the sort of vote suppression outlawed by the VRA was caused by the existence of the VRA.

      • DrDick

        Actually, it is a consequence of changes in the way we raise hogs. Trichinosis is virtually non-existent in hogs here, as well. “Free range” hogs should probably be treated with caution, however, as it is fairly common in wild game.

  • Yes, I heard this from a waiter who convinced us to try underdone, but not rare, pork some years ago. I’ve since shortened the time I cook pork because it does taste better.

    If you’re going to be concerned about getting something nasty from food you prepare, worry about listeria and salmonella.

    Actually don’t or you’ll never eat anything.

    • StellaB

      As cheerless (neo)liberals, we don’t eat pork because of the cruel way that it’s raised. Before we quit, I used to throw caution to the winds and cook it to 140F.

      • Merkwürdigliebe

        It’s quite unfair that such beautiful, smart and kind animals as pigs are so tasty to us at the same time.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          Word is that “pork” and “long pork” have similar tastiness.

          Food for thought.

          • Hogan

            But unlike long pigs, pigs are smart, beautiful, and kind. Keep that in mind when you make your choice.

            • DrDick

              Actually, they are not. Hogs are actually kind of nasty and vicious (according to my hillbilly mother whose family raised them).

              • Moondog

                Actually, pigs are smart and social, and they like to play.

                • DrDick

                  Actually, they are both.

                • Moondog

                  Both not smart and smart? OK.

              • Lurking Canadian

                Best thing I ever heard about pigs, from someone who had farmed them, was the view that the reason pigs are so vicious is that they are smart enough to know why we keep them around.

                • Moondog

                  They do seem to know which humans treat them well. Much like dogs.

          • Honoré De Ballsack

            “Right, Lisa…some wonderful, magical animal!”

        • rea

          Pigs would quite cheerfully eat you.

          • Merkwürdigliebe

            No doubt. Would they also raise me in cramped deprived unsanitary prison-like conditions for the sole purpose of killing and eating me later?

            • mikeSchilling

              If they had opposable thumbs, they would.

              • Two thumbs good, no thumbs bad!

              • Merkwürdigliebe

                = “Hey, the poor people would exploit and oppress us too, had the tables been turned, so what is this injustice you are complaining about?”
                – Andrew Carnegie & co.

                • vic rattlehead

                  Hey look, a self-righteous vegan. You don’t see that every day!

                • Merkwürdigliebe

                  Hey look, an ad hominem.

                  Also, I’m not a vegan, nor do I bring up my dietary preferences anywhere in this discussion. Nor do I berate anyone for enjoying animal products.

                  So what does this have to do with the horrible treatment of animals in industrial farms?

                  Doesn’t seem like you’ve really considered the lobster.

          • DrDick

            Raw.

    • Pork tastes best as bacon and fried until crispy, or smoked for hours at low temperature until if falls apart. I’m surprised I have to explain this.

  • cpinva

    I too have had it drilled into me, since I was but a young sprout, that pork, to be safe, must be cooked until it’s (I believe) 180 in the center. I think i’ll hold off, until the FDA and/or the CDC chimes in on this.

    • timb

      They have. Look up to the top of the thread and there’s a link

  • That is quite a picture.

    Also I thought sushi had to be inspected for parasites itself, hence the thin slicing. Still.

    • DrDick

      It does.

  • joel hanes

    It occurs to me (but apparently not to the writer) that the low incidence of trichinosis may be a result the widespread conviction that pork must be served well-done.

    • Ken

      Sort of like striking down the Voting Rights Act because of the low incidence of poll taxes and literacy tests?

      • mikeSchilling

        Dammit!

    • Merkwürdigliebe

      The incidence of the disease is low in the live animals themselves – from what I understand as a result of new livestock farming methods.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “See, there’s no problem! Just repeal those burdensome regulations!” –Every RW GOPer ever.

        Karma would demand that they be fed to the pigs.

      • DrDick

        Exactly.

    • elm

      Yep. I was going to say this, too. It may be true that trichinosis is actually rare and we would see almost none of it even if raw pork were consumed widely. But we can’t know that from the incidence rate of trichinosis in an environment where everyone cooks their pork well done.

      ETA: If what Merkwurdigliebe says above is true, that would be good evidence that trichinosis is rare.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    It’s the perfect time of year for some “Prosciutto e Melone”.

    Which I guess is how you say “pork sashimi” in Italian.

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      Well, there is the small difference that proscuitto is cured in salt for a lengthy spell.

      (And yes–I know you can’t get real prosciutto in the USA because it’s isn’t cured long enough to comply with FDA regulations.)

  • leftwingfox

    The trichinosis issue was much more when the hogs ate scraps on the family farm, and were exposed to the roundworm reproductive cycle (which is why game is still a factor).

    Modern pork raised in factory farms are given a much more consistent feed, so the cycle or reproduction isn’t present.

    Organic free-range pork or wild boar is more likely to be subject to trichinosis than supermarket pork.

  • Warren Terra

    This is fantastic news. The WHO has a hard time getting anyone to manuscript pharmaceutical grade antihelminthics, because there is no money in it – in humans, they’re almost exclusively a disease of the most abjectly poor, who have no money to spend on treatment. Merck actually gave up their rights to produce avermectin for humans a few years back, and donated their leftover stock, because they didn’t want to make any more (agricultural grade antihelminthics, on the other hand, are a profit center).

    Once pork sushi brings roundworms to the wealthy, big pharma will have reason to make antihelminthics again. Though exporting treatment from them for the developing world will still be a challenge.

  • DWD

    Raw pork seems like a bridge too far to me, but Alton Brown’s pork tenderloin, grilled to about 140-150 and carried over for another 10 degrees or so, is amazing. I wanted to make it today, but the weather report for NoVA convinced me that grilling was out. Of course, as I look out my window now, it’s dry and sunny.

    • cpinva

      “Of course, as I look out my window now, it’s dry and sunny.”

      don’t trust it! in our area, the weather is notorious for being notoriously fickle, it’ll change on you in mid-grill, I guarantee it.

      • Ken

        It’s self-fulfilling. The particles from the thousands of grills ascend and act as nuclei for raindrop formation.

    • timb

      Brown’s recipe is a favorite of my family. Reserve, boil, and reduce the marinade for a yummy sauce too!

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    My wife’s OB (impeccable credentials) has counseled her sotto voce that it’s OK to eat sushi while pregnant (one of my wife’s favorite foods and one of the few things she can tolerate/ keep down while pregnant – when pregnant, she gets incredible nausea and barfs up most meals, even on max doses of anti nausea meds). NB my wife is a doctor and they are friends. The OB says the risks from raw fish are minimal and there hasn’t been a case of sushi-borne illness (at least in our region) for years if not decades. She’s a little less sanguine about lunch meat (listeria risk) but says if you stay away from sketchier places you should be fine as well.

  • paulgottlieb

    Julia Child explained all this about forty years ago in her “The Art of French Cooking.” Exhaustive testing by French food scientists has established that an internal temperature of 140 degrees was sufficient to eliminate any danger.The challenge in pork today is that today’s pig is so much leaner than the pig of the past, mostly because the demand for lard is so much lower. You could cook the hell out of pork chop back then, and it would still be moist. That’s not true any more

    • cpinva

      “You could cook the hell out of pork chop back then, and it would still be moist. That’s not true any more”

      boy, that’s for sure! marinating it in a good brine helps, but even so, you have to practically stand on it, to keep it from turning rock hard & dry.

  • cleek

    raw.. hah. i’m the cook in our house and i can’t even get my wife to eat pork if it has even the slightest hint of pink in it. medium-well is out of the question.

    • cpinva

      same here. she’s been well taught that anything less than white, for pork, is probably a death sentence. then she kvetches about how dry it is.

  • cafl

    Just focus on eating your much loved dog whenever you eat pork and it will help you give it up. Pigs are just as smart and conscious of what’s happening to them. If this pork loving southern girl can do it, so can you.

    • Brautigan

      If my dachshunds were anywhere near as tasty as Arthur Bryant’s, they would have reason to be worried.

    • vic rattlehead

      Eh, why don’t you go fuck yourself.

    • galanx

      “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us, but pigs treat us as equals.”
      -Winston Churchill

  • Jim in Baltimore

    Lightning is almost always associated with rain. Maybe it’s cliche, but most folks have enough sense to come in out of the rain, which also helps cut down on lightning-strike deaths. Could a similar thing be going on with pork-borne worms?

  • jgmilles

    I had mett, a minced raw pork dish, in Germany several years ago. It was delicious: I wish I could get it here. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mett

  • Also, freezing pork for a month or so kills the organism. So previously frozen pork is safe.

  • Matthew B.

    Horse sashimi (“basashi”) is pretty popular in Japan. It’s all right; tastes like cold roast beef. I know people who’ve tried chicken and pork sashimi, but I wouldn’t eat either myself.

    • leftwingfox

      It’s all right; tastes like cold roast beef.

      F’king sold. A thin slice of roast beef or roast pork with a pinch of salt and pepper is one of my favorite snacks.

    • I have eaten some raw chicken and find it basically unpalatable. Too squishy. I do think that people tend to overcook chicken, though.

    • Jhoosier

      I haven’t found a good place for basashi. The izakaya where I’ve had it always serve it frozen. As in, you could thunk it on the table frozen. Still, I imagine it’d be pretty good if you got it from somewhere good.

      I’ve had ‘raw’ chicken before. Usually it’s blanched so the outside layer is white, but the inside it totally raw. Incidentally, around 50 people got food poisoning from chicken sashimi at the meat festival last month in Tokyo. Why anyone thought eating raw chicken that had been sitting around at a food festival in the heat would be a good idea, I don’t know.

  • Denverite

    For those who refuse to eat pork until it has thoroughly been exposed to the fires of the Yellowstone supervolcano, a suggestion. Get a thin, well-marbled cut, marinate/douse it in olive oil, and salt liberally. Throw it on the grill or a hot skillet for 5-6 minutes. It will cook thoroughly, and the olive oil and internal fat will keep it from getting to dry.

    We’re having that for dinner tonight, actually.

    • Ahuitzotl

      getting well-marbled pork is something I’ve had problems with ever since getting to the USA.

  • AMK

    Okay, no trichinosis (maybe). Now there are only about 999 diseases left that are contracted by eating raw meat.

    And this article assumes proper sanitary handling procedures have been followed, which is so often not the case even in long-established, tightly regulated supply chains like those for sushi.

  • ringtail

    I think there’s a certain logical inconsistency with the fervor over the amount of antibiotics and Rx chemicals in animal agriculture and the fear of pathogens.

    If there’s so many chemicals in the food animals, how could they have so many pathogens? It’s something of an either-or. I personally don’t worry much about either.

    In fact, I actually love raw bacon. Now, the curing probably gives it an additional safety factor but still.

    • saraeanderson

      My understanding is that the risk of disease comes a lot more from how the meat is handled before it gets to your plate, rather than a problem with the meat itself.

    • Moondog

      Really? You’re completely unaware that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock does not result in pathogen-free food? (Also, that’s not what drives the practice.)

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/curb-antibiotic-use-in-farm-animals/

      • ringtail

        I understand completely what drives the practice, having actually bought, sold, raised, processed and sold livestock.

        I shouldn’t have forced the causal link between contamination and antibiotics, conceded, I meant merely that there’s a tension between wanting everything “clean” and “pretty” and not wanting it to be GM, sprayed with herbicide, given drugs, etc etc.

        It’s the same reason organic produce often doesn’t look very good next to the conventional. There’s nothing “wrong” with it but every imperfection hasn’t been managed away. Similarly, if we want to avoid the very real animal health and human safety problems that can come from antibiotic resistant bugs (among other problems) we might have to accept meat that isn’t as desirable (older hogs with less palatable carcasses or lower supply driving up cost for example). Extending to an actual food safety issue, it wouldn’t surprise me if we had to accept an increased rate of something like trichinosis if we gained the upside of more judicious/restrained drug use.

        • ajay

          If there’s so many chemicals in the food animals, how could they have so many pathogens? It’s something of an either-or.

          OK, this is pretty funny. Well trolled, Gomer.

  • Jeff Ryan

    Might want to pick up a copy of Eleven Blue Men. First.

  • Yankee

    Sushi is safe because it is carefully inspected. There are some astonishingly nasty parasites available. I would think it were possible to inspect pork likewise and I imagine these self-preserving professionals know how to do this, but I would not bet on a random pork roast from the Super Duper.

    I would think there’s less trich. in these days of industrial pork production vs. many small-time sideline suppliers as there used to be.

  • Origami Isopod

    I figured from the title this was gonna be another post about the stripper at the Libertoonian convention.

  • Franklee

    The Scandinavians have been eating raw pork for centuries. They claim they can do it because they never feed the pigs garbage. I have no idea if that is true or not. Given that I have zero trust in the American food supply chain I would be very reluctant to eat raw pork unless I knew the pig & the person that slaughtered & butchered it.

  • YosemiteSemite

    Long ago, in the late 60s, when I was just a young sprout, I spent some time in Germany, at university, on an exchange program. The program arranged for me to live with a German fraternity at the Universität Stuttgart, as it is now known. (At that time, it was the Technische Hochscule Stuttgart.) Almost all of the students in the fraternity attended the TH Stuttgart, but there were a couple at other institutions in the vicinity. There was one student studying agronomy at the Universtät Hohenheim, in the southern suburbs. This gent regularly had pork tartare at meals he prepared himself, as opposed to the group meals when all the fraternity had lunch together. He told me that they don’t eat raw pork in the US, because the inspection protocols there are not as stringent as the German protocols. He was quit disdainful, I would say, but then again agriculture was his business. It is true that at one time, meat inspection was not up to European standards. It irked Midwestern hog producers no end after the railroads gave them access to Atlantic ports that they couldn’t ship their pork to Europe because the Europeans wouldn’t let it into their markets because of the lack of stringent inspection.

    The standards are not uniform across the continent, though. After I left the university in Germany, I went to live in Spain, in Barcelona. While I was there, there was a big scandal because the mayor in the city of Prat de Llobregat, near the Barcelona airport, who owned a bar there, sold jamón serrano which gave a number of his customers trichinosis. Jamón serrano is a dry-cured raw ham, very like the Italian prosciutto. It is a possibly the most wide-spread tapa in Spanish bars, a ración of jamón serrano, consisting of three or four very thin slices. Since it is raw, however, there is a danger of trichinosis. In Spain, there are three Denominaciones de Origen, sort of like wine. For a very long time, up until the last few years, the USDA would not permit the importation of jamón ibérico, the Dehesa de Extremadura (the oak holms of the Extremadura region) denominacion, because the pigs there were set out to roam among the oaks, and eat the acorns (bellotas — for that reason also known as jamón de bellota), as well as whatever else they could root up. For that reason, the USDA was chary of those hams; it felt there was a high risk of trichinosis. I don’t remember what punishment befell the mayor of Prat, although punished he was. (Jamón is everywhere in Spain. It hangs from the rafters in the bars, with a little cup on a spike driven into the bottom of the ham to catch the drips. There’s also a movie which sends up a lot Spanish customs and attitudes called Jamón, Jamón, with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.)

    Many kinds of animals taken in the wild suffer from trichinosis. A Russian sailor, Valerian Albanov wrote an account of being ice-bound in the Polar Sea aboard a Russian sailing vessel over the winter of 1912, In the Land of White Death. To stay alive, the sailors killed polar bears — forty-three by one count — but didn’t have a lot of fuel with which to cook their food, and may have contracted trichinosis, based on accounts of behavior described in Albanov’s account. In the Epilogue to the modern edition, Jon Krakauer writes: “It turns out that polar bears are common carriers of the disease—indeed, modern zoologists report that virtually all polar bears are infected with trichinosis. The only sure way of preventing its transmission to humans is to cook the meat thoroughly—a luxury the Saint Anna sailors did not often have.”

    Hmmm. Almost enough material here for another episode of Portlandia. Except they already did it: Season 3, Episode 4, “The Birthday Party”.

    • YosemiteSemite

      A correction: Jon Krakauer is the editor of the Adventure Library series, which published the modern edition of Albanov’s tale, and he wrote the Preface to it; David Roberts wrote the Introduction and the Epilogue.

  • rhino

    I routinely cook pork to medium rare. Also poultry.

  • galanx

    Had ‘sashimi pig’from wild boar (also sashimi flying squirrel) with my wife’s relatives, aboriginals in the mountains of Taiwan. I survived, but not sometnhing I’d want to do regularly

  • azumbrunn

    They say Trichinosis is a rare disease. Now why is that? Because we always cook pork well done. We stop doing that, we will get the disease back, especially considering the conditions on US pig farms. I think eggs are a suitable comparison: We can’t eat them raw because under the conditions of egg production in this country there is practically a guarantee that some are dangerous (Salmonella). I never hesitate eating raw eggs in Europe and problems there are quite rare indeed.

  • mutterc

    Trichinosis isn’t rare because people cook their pork well-done.

    Pigs got the worms through their feet. So we put shoes on them (I’m not kidding AFAIK) and no more trichinosis.

  • Grocer

    My understanding is most cases of it in the US come from bear meat which ought to give an indication of how rare it is. Basically all bears have trichinosis and you’d better cook it extremely well if you’re having some in the field. Even if it’s been frozen well done is the way to go cause trichinosis is nasty to deal with. Almost all other cases come from feral pigs i.e. wild boar. Domestic pigs basically don’t carry it anymore – any contamination comes from a feral population mixing with domestics. Not saying you should rush out to the supermarket but if you trust your butcher to supply quality pork a medium done pork chop is definitely the way to go.

  • tomstickler

    Back in the 1950s, my family used to visit another family that farmed. A seasonal rite was the castration of the new generation of pigs. This was quite a festive affair, with some tasty fried testicles for the evening meal.

    More than once, I witnessed worms exiting a fresh deposit of manure in the farmyard. Whether these were of the Trichinella genus or not, the elder daughter in the farm family did contract a case of Trichinosis.

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