The pork steak is not a common cut. Some markets don't carry it at all. In others, they are thin and unattractive. Yet properly prepared, the pork steak is a hidden treasure.
The pork steak is a slice of pork shoulder, what we call a Boston butt. When cut into a thick slice, this steak becomes an excellent and versatile piece of pork. But just like beef shoulder steak, this cut requires careful cooking to be tender.
Recently, I had the butcher at Wright’s Market cut me six pork steaks. I requested a thickness of 1 1/2 inches, bone-in and well-trimmed. The steaks were uniform and weighed about 1.75 pounds. For around $30, I got an armload of pork.
The pork steak comes from hard-working and weight-bearing muscles. We commonly see it as a roast. We smoke or grill it for long hours. You might cover it in the oven and do the same. Long simmered in milk, it becomes a luscious Italian delicacy.
When you take that Boston butt and cut it into thick slices, a beautiful thing happens. The cut holds together. It's basically a small roast. And when treated that way, the result is true flavorful tenderness.
I got the pork cut to once again try making the well-known St. Louis pork steaks. Two previous tries some years back did not produce the result I wanted. This time, my plan was to develop a recipe that was easy to use and produced a good result. With variations, it can be a more complicated and varied process.
Of course, with all those pork steaks on my hands, I wasn't going to stop at one recipe. I wanted to look at other ways of cooking this hidden treasure. I want to share some of my results with you. I think you will enjoy.
One of my favorite Asian dishes is twice or double-cooked pork. Traditionally, pork belly is simmered before slicing and then stir fried. Pork steak is a great substitute. The result is both tender and crisp.
Rich versions have bean paste or fermented black beans added. Most always sweet peppers appear and sometimes cabbage. Find it Szechuan-style and hot dried chilies are added.
Making a version using thick strips was a goal. One steak yields a dozen ample strips. After browning, I placed them in my pressure cooker along with onions, peppers, mushrooms and tomato. After an hour, I had tender pork with plenty of liquid to serve over rice or pasta.
With another steak, I used onion, garlic, paprika and cumin. The remaining one was made with Thai seasonings including basil, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. Both were tasty, tender and easy to prepare.
Back to the St. Louis pork steak. Before, I had followed the original Schnuck’s versions. Baking at high heat was not what I wanted. Then I used a lower temperature method and still didn’t get the desire result.
This time braising was my game. I made a sauce using onion, garlic, ketchup, chicken stock and seasonings. After searing the steaks, I placed them in a foil-covered pan and baked them for two hours at 300˚F.
I took some of the cooking liquid and reduced it by over half. The steaks were removed from the remaining liquid and plated. I brushed them with the thick sauce.
That did it. The steaks were fork-tender and full of flavor. Serve with grilled bread and fruit or salad. Alternatively pull the pork for sandwiches.
Give pork steaks a try. They are a treasure, often found hiding in plain sight.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.
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