While many of us are familiar with super-fatty and delicious cuts of pork, like bacon and country-style pork ribs, some cuts of pork, like pork chops and tenderloins, are lighter and more delicate. Ground pork is a delicious mix of both; plus, it’s easy to work with and fast to cook. To season ground pork, go with mild to medium spices and herbs that won’t overwhelm the flavor of the meat.
Ground pork makes frequent appearances in meatballs, tortellini, dumplings, samosas, meat pies, soups, stuffed vegetables and tacos, and as a topping on pizzas and baked potatoes. It is popular in Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Asian and Indian cuisines.
Ground pork is typically a mix of both fatty and lean cuts. Most ground pork comes from the shoulder, also called pork butt. If pre-packaged ground pork does not indicate a fat percentage, it is usually about 15 percent fat. Sausage-grade ground pork is generally fattier and may contain 25 to 30 percent fat.
Ground pork takes very little time to cook, and some spices require more time to “marry” with a sauce or lose some of their heat. If you want to make a rich, spicy Mexican adobo sauce, for instance, start your sauce early and add all the ingredients except for the pork. Wait until the sauce is rich and interesting, then quickly sauté the pork in a separate pan (to get a little browning effect) for about 2 minutes. Add the pork to the sauce and cook for another 6 to 10 minutes.
The National Pork Board advises that ground pork patties and meatballs be cooked for 8 to 12 minutes, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because ground pork cooks so quickly, it doesn’t require a lot of seasoning. Go easy on the salt and pepper, especially if you plan on adding other spices, which may contain salt.
Spices love fat, and the fat content of ground pork coupled with its light flavor makes it a great way to deliver a ton of flavor in fast, easy dishes. Shoot for a nice balance in your seasoning of ground spices and fresh herbs.
Really hot spices like cayenne, red chili flakes, curry, chipotle and freshly ground black peppercorn can completely overcome the pork flavor, so use them judiciously. A tiny pinch will do.
Here are some mild to medium spices and herbs that pair well with dishes in these cuisines:
Italian Pork Seasonings: Fresh basil, chives and garlic chives, oregano, mint, dill, lemon zest, Italian parsley, and garlic
Mexican and Spanish Pork Seasonings: Coriander, cilantro, dill, mustard seed, cumin, Mexican cinnamon, cloves, marjoram, and ancho chile powder
Indian Pork Seasonings: Turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cardamom, tamarind, lemon and lime zest
Asian Pork Seasonings: Garlic, Chinese cinnamon, kaffir lime leaves, laksa, lemongrass, mace, sesame, star anise, and Thai basil
Remember to experiment a little first and adjust to taste. If in doubt, use a light hand when seasoning ground pork. You can always make a spicy soup broth with mild meatballs, or serve a spicy cheese sauce with your pork-stuffed vegetables.
If you are new to seasoning ground meats, chop some fresh herbs and mix them with dried spices in a small condiment bowl. Sauté a small portion of your ground pork with your spice blend, taste and adjust. By doing a test run first, you’ll avoid over-salting or overwhelming your ground pork.