The paranoia didn't sink in until a few hours later, when the meat reverie finally wore off. I had just eaten some of the best pork I had ever tasted, but surely, there would be consequences. Parasites would wind their way through my viscera, where they'd breed, participating in squirmy, microscopic orgies. They would grow ever more audacious, eventually poking their toothy little faces out to explore the world around them.
"Eating raw pork was worth it," I would croak on my deathbed. "Almost."
The pork was, indeed, delicious. It started at The Black Hoof, Toronto's nose-to-tail institution and the place where I had experienced countless culinary firsts over the years: marrow scooped directly from a young cow's roasted shin bone, sheep brains stuffed into pasta, raw horse meat minced into tartare. This time, it was pork as I'd never had it, shaved thin and served as carpaccio. It was flecked with Maldon salt, pine nuts, pickled onions, and fresh tufts of maple blossoms foraged from British Columbia. The meat was lightly seared on the outside but it was otherwise raw, the hue of ripe grapefruit. It was better than any carpaccio I've ever had, similar to beef but palpably sweet, permeated with fat and soft as silk. It was also--how should I put this--illegal.
Raw beef, commonly served in Toronto, is great. Raw pork is even better. Europeans eat it all the time, but in North America, the idea of eating raw pork can freak people out. According to Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act, pork must be served well-done in restaurants, which means the meat has to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Like a good steak, a pork chop is ruined when it's cooked that much. It becomes tough as wood, and Ontario chefs are bound by law to serve it that way.
But why are people paranoid about pork? Why did I briefly trip out over parasites? The answer is trichinella, a roundworm that can infect humans. It causes fever, facial swelling, gastronomic distress, and in extreme cases, death. It used to be a huge problem (decades ago) and cooking pork all the way through was the best way to avoid it. But in Canada and the US, advancements in farming and inspection methods have made trichinella in commercial pork virtually non-existent.
"The reason why people cook pork until it's black is because in the old days, trichinella was a lot more widespread," says Dr. Keith Warriner, a professor of food safety at the University of Guelph. "A lot of our food safety practices are historic."
It's not all hysteria, though. Pork is susceptible to pathogens like salmonella and listeria, more so than beef. But while some pathogens--such as Hepatitis E--can reside inside the meat, most hang out on the surface, easily killed with the help of a quick hot sear. Warriner doesn't recommend eating raw meat of any kind, but he admits that even undercooked pork is not necessarily hazardous, if proper precautions are taken.
"You can eat a rare pork chop," he says. "As long as chefs take some mitigating effort, such as searing on the outside, then it's the consumer's choice."
Jen Agg, owner of The Black Hoof, knows that people can be reticent about eating raw pork. That's partly why she decided to partake in a bit of civil disobedience and serve it at her restaurant.
"It's about educating the diner," Agg says. "People think you have to overcook your chicken or your pork or you will die. It's ridiculous. It took a long time to educate people about off-cuts in Toronto, and raw pork was really the next logical step for us."
Other Toronto restaurants are flouting regulations for the sake of flavor, too. At Little Italy's Bar Isabel, ex-Black Hoof chef Grant van Gameren grills Spanish Iberico, some of the best pork on the planet, over Binchotan. The Japanese charcoal burns hot and clean, searing the meat without tainting its flavor. The pork is served ruby-red rare, and it's as delicate and rich as bluefin tuna. The charred ramps (foraged from just outside the city), the amarillo-infused butter sauce, and the wild onion flowers are mere accessories, even if they're fantastic. The pork is expensive --ten times the cost of Berkshire, van Gameren says--so cooking it to provincial regulations would be sheer sacrilege.
"Rare is the best way to serve it. We won't do it any other way," he says. "Some people aren't too sure about it, then they try it and fall in love with it."
Closer downtown, a reputed Italian restaurant sources whole pigs from a family-run farm in southwestern Ontario. "It's the most amazing pork you could ever see," says the chef, who has chosen to remain anonymous. As soon as the pork arrives, when it's as fresh as possible, the restaurant sets aside some of it to serve Tuscan-style salsiccia cruda, a.k.a. raw sausage. The meat is ground in-house and mixed with fennel seeds, coriander seeds, chilies, white wine, and garlic. You're supposed to spread it on toast. "It's incredible," the chef says. "It's super sweet." He says he's defying health inspectors in order to help diners rethink food. "When you put raw pork in front of someone, it makes an impact," he says. "It's the chef's responsibility to change people's minds."
This kind of culinary exploration makes me happy for Toronto. We need more stuff like this, because there's nothing worse than being denied a delicious meal due to paranoia. And at the time of this writing, I had not yet succumbed to a pork-related pathogen.
Back at the Black Hoof, Agg continues her mission to shock diners out of their preconceptions.
"The Japanese eat raw chicken," she says. "That's the final frontier."
People in Europe certainly don't have habit of consuming raw, or untreated pork at all.... Well maybe in Latvia when they run out of potatoes
Didn't read lol
ManOfThePeepHole -Bwhahah thats the best!
In before "OP's mom loves the hog"
fuck Ive been trying to go to the Black Hoof for months now. I drove up there and they were closed - on vacation. I felt like clark griswald (they dont take reservations). Cant wait to get there. Its #1 on my list, followed by bar isabel.
Bit harsh on the OP guys.
Sir Psycho Sexy - Bit harsh on the OP guys.