The un-pork

Pub date June 27, 2006


The imminence of a determined pork eater raises certain questions in the porkless kitchen. The largest of these is, Can pork be faked? Meat fakery has come a long way in the past few years, as anyone who’s eaten a Boca burger knows — but if some entrepreneur has come up with a porkless pork roast that would nonetheless convince a pork connoisseur, I have not heard of it.
In my everyday cooking, I have found that turkey, in its various forms, nicely fills in the gaps left by the pork we more or less stopped eating when Bill Clinton was still president. The breast slices make good scaloppine. Turkey bacon creditably substitutes for pancetta. And the whole tenderloins (really adjuncts of the breast in turkeys, rather than of the back, as in hogs) are marvels of adaptability: They can be butterflied and quickly grilled or cubed for vindaloo, among many other applications.
But would the tenderloins, I wonder, accept the arista treatment, as so temptingly laid out by Bruce Aidells in his Complete Meat Cookbook? Arista means “the best” in Greek, and the dish is said to have originated as an herb-rubbed, spit-roasted piece of pork served to a contingent of Greek prelates visiting Florence in the 15th century. Their verdict? Aristos!
Acclaim and applause are lovely, of course, but I was hoping just to pull off my bit of subterfuge without being caught. Turkey tenderloins are not large (less than a pound each), so I would need several to make the equivalent of a four-pound pork roast. Their smallness invited direct grilling — a blessing, since I have no spit, though even fast grilling of a lean meat like turkey poses the danger of desiccation. Aidells’s rub (of fennel seed, sage, rosemary, and salt) is fabulous, but I also took the precaution of cutting a deep, narrow slit in the side of each tenderloin and filling it with a pat of butter and a clove of peeled, smashed garlic. One additional precaution: a buttery port-cognac sauce derived from the one Wolfgang Puck offers for tuna au poivre in Live, Love, Eat! (My modification: adding dried thyme.)
The guest list included no prelates, and no one was heard speaking Greek, either before or after the appearance of the forged arista. But the meat was juicy and tasty, and most of it disappeared.
“I thought it was pork,” the pork eater said later, when informed of the deception. Bravo!