Most Canadian pork is processed. Only about one third is sold as fresh cuts.
Preserving pork by salting, curing, smoking, or a combination of these, is almost as old as civilisation itself. Preserving pork was originally a method to preserve meat over the winter months. Preserving pork, it was soon noticed, had other benefits. The flavour of cured and smoked pork was highly appreciated, and, over the centuries, a wide range of pork products was developed to satisfy the public demand for pork delicacies.
Each pork-producing country has its own distinctive versions: Westphalian ham from Germany, York ham from England, Salami from Italy, Yunnan ham from China, and Chorizo from Spain, to the point that a comprehensive description of processed pork products would need a large reference book to give it justice.
These are available in a wide variety.
Bone-in hams are generally the most flavourful. Partially-boned hams have the aitch (pelvis) bone and shank removed. The skin is left on. Boneless whole muscle hams are deboned and skinned. They are netted prior to cooking and smoking to give a particular shape. Black Forest ham is typical of these types of hams.
Canned Ham, Tin-end, Dinner ham, 4 x 4 hams are all terms for hams that contain varying amounts of emulsified pork. They are processed and formed, with a high moisture content and therefore a lower meat protein. Often used for sliced ham in sandwiches, salads, etc.
Toupie Ham: A whole muscle ham with a high moisture content.
Back or Canadian bacon: bears little resemblance to bacon at all. It is the fully-cooked, cured and smoked eye of the loin, and thus very lean.
Smoked Pork Hock: Made from the hind (or ham) shanks, occasionally from the front hock. Fully cooked and smoked, they need a lengthy simmering to tenderize. Both meat and cooking liquid are highly flavoured. A prime ingredient of Canadian Pea Soup.
Smoked Shoulder Picnic: Cured, smoked and usually partially cooked; some may be fully cooked.
Capicola: Cured, smoked and fully cooked boneless shoulder muscle, with the addition of spices.
Smoked Jowl: Cured, smoked and fully cooked. Mainly used as a flavouring agent for simmered dishes.
Kassler: Cured, smoked, bone-in loins. Available whole, or cut into chops. Fully cooked.
Fully cooked hams need to be reheated to 140°F (60°C) Partially cooked hams need to be cooked to 160°F (70°C) Partially-cooked hams are usually skin-on, bone in, cured and smoked, but must be cooked to 160°F (70°C) before serving.
These hams need soaking and/or boiling to remove excess salt.
“Country-cured”, Smithfield and Virginia: Dry Salt Cured and Smoked.
Cottage Roll: Cured only. Made f rom the shoulder blade. A very economical item. Requires prolonged simmering until an internal temperature of 160°F (70°C). Can be served hot or cold. The simmering juices make an excellent stock for soups.
Not cooked. May be smoked or unsmoked. Normally boneless, thinly sliced and eaten raw.
Jambon de Bayonne (France): Seasoned, salted and cold-smoked.
Prosciutto and Parma (Italy): Seasoned, salted and air-dried. Sometimes used in hot dishes, but is more familiar thinly sliced and served with melon and black pepper.
Serrano and Iberica (Spain): Long aged, unsmoked.
Westphalian (Germany). Made from pigs fed with acorns. Dry-salted, then brined. Lightly smoked with beech and juniper wood.
Bacon, or more accurately “side bacon”, is made from the pork belly with the side ribs removed. It is skinned, cured, and smoked.
Nitrates are added for colour and erythorbate as a shelf-life extender. There are, however, other bacon items that are not made from the pork belly.
“Canadian Bacon” is not really a bacon at all and is described under “hams”.
One half to two-thirds by weight of side bacon is fat. This fat is essential to make cooked bacon crispy and yet tender. Since bacon must be cooked before being served much of the fat is rendered out.
Premium, centre-cut bacon can be purchased; otherwise the whole belly is used (end-to-end).
Flavour can vary considerably depending on processing and curing methods. New flavours are being developed all the time, including pre-cooked varieties. At the food service level, straightahead, generic bacon is the rule.
Uses: a breakfast item, ingredient in hamburgers and other fast foods, or for adding flavours to braised items, stews, quiche, and vegetables.
All bacon must be refrigerated.
Sausage is typically a chopped meat mixture stuffed into a tubular casing. The overwhelming majority of both fresh and dried sausages are made from either pork only, or pork combined with another type of meat.
There are more varieties of sausage than can be listed here. There are more than 1,000 types of German sausages alone. Generic descriptions only will be given here.
There are three major sausage categories:
- Fresh, which are intended for cooking (breakfast anddinner varieties like Italian style).
- Cooked, and eaten cold (liver sausage, Mortadella) or hot (frankfurters, hot dogs).
- Cured, dried, and sometimes smoked, intended for keeping and slicing (most salamis). Most in this category
undergo fermentation during the drying process.
In reality, sausage varieties are far more complicated than this. For example, bratwurst sausage can be sold fresh, cooked, or smoked.
From the French “char cuit”, or cooked meat, charcuterie is a term that refers to the establishment that sells cooked meat, specifically pork, and the products themselves. To illustrate, a charcuterie sells terrines, and terrines are typical examples of charcuterie. The person who makes charcuterie is a “charcutier”.
Roughly speaking, charcuterie comprises all the examples of processed pork described here, and many others (terrines, pâtés, galantines, boudins, etc.)
Although of French origin, the term has now entered the English language.