Pork is a blank canvas just waiting to be splashed with a variety of colorful seasonings. Its sweet mild flavor lends itself well to spices and herbs that would overpower other dishes or lose themselves among more dominant natural flavors. You can go the simple route and season chops, ribs or roasts with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, which bring out the pork's natural flavors, or you can enhance those flavors with herbs such as rosemary, marjoram or a blend of your favorites.
Take a Flavor Trip
There are seasonings to suit any culinary occasion, and the array of herbs and spices available today can literally take you on a trip around the world. Starting right here in the U.S., take a culinary trip to the Southwest with a pork loin roasted in a rub made from garlic, chili powder and cumin. Then head north to apple country by braising pork chops with apples seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. Sprinkle pork chops with five-spice powder and garlic powder for a Far East flair, or conjure up visions of Italy by brushing a roast with a blend of extra virgin olive oil, dried basil and dried oregano. Fire up the grill anywhere for a pork barbecue that calls for a rub made from cayenne pepper, onion and garlic powder, thyme and paprika.
Don't Forget the Veggies
The concept of seasoning goes beyond the jars of herbs and spices on your shelves. Vegetables such as garlic, onions and celery provide a considerable amount of flavor to pan-fried or roasted meats, and pork is no exception. If you don't want to use fresh seasoning vegetables, opt for their powdered versions, which deliver the same amount of flavor with less work. Onion, garlic and celery powders can also be incorporated into blends of other herbs and spices that can be premade in quantity for subsequent uses.
Is It an Herb or a Spice?
Spices and herbs are often mentioned together as seasonings for pork as well as other meats and dishes, but there are a few fundamental differences between them. For botanical purposes, spices are obtained from the bark, seeds or roots of plants with woody stems, while herbs are generally harvested as leaves from plants with non-woody stems. Spices tend to impart a more intensely warm flavor, while herbs generally provide milder notes. Herbs also have the advantage of being available in two forms--fresh and dried. Fresh herbs provide a brighter green flavor and a little of most of them go a long way, while dried herbs tend to lose their potency within a year.
Whatever cooking method or seasonings you use to cook pork, always be sure to cook it thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For a roast or whole loin, set the time for the correct cooking time, then insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part and not close to a bone, if there is one. Do the same when cooking chops, allowing for the full cooking time before testing in the thickest part away from the bone. When ready to serve, cover the hot chops or roast with aluminum foil to redistribute the juices and flavorings.