Chef Michael Olson’s launches new cookbook ‘Living High Off the Hog’
For the past five years, Alberta Pork has proudly sponsored chefs Anna and Michael Olson’s culinary sessions at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s annual Christmas in November event. When Chef Michael Olson shared that he would be creating an all pork cookbook, Alberta Pork was proud to support his new cookbook venture ‘Living High Off the Hog.’
A CARNIVORE’S LOVE LETTER TO ONE OF THE MOST VERSATILE, AFFORDABLE AND TASTY TYPES OF MEAT: PORK.
Over the years, Michael has shared delicious pork recipes at Christmas In November designed to make home cooks, including those with limited experience in the kitchen, feel like they can produce a successful meal. From bite-sized appetizers – like his Super Mario Meatballs – to showstopper main courses – like his Cheddar and Apple Stuffed Pork Loin with Cider Glaze– Michael has used his 30 years of experience as a professional chef to create pork recipes that you’ll want to eat over and over again.
With a rundown on everything you need to know about pork including how to buy, store, butcher and prep various cuts, as well as special sections on deli meats, charcuterie and BBQ, Living High Off the Hog is a great gift to inspire new and veteran home cooks alike.
CHEF MICHAEL OLSON SAT DOWN TO TALK ABOUT WHAT INSPIRED HIM WHEN IT CAME TO RECIPE DEVELOPMENT FOR THIS NEW COOKBOOK.
What made you want to create an all pork cookbook?
Originally I pitched it as a meat book. I wanted to give people the confidence to cook with cuts they may not be familiar with. If you have never cooked a pork butt, it can seem daunting. The publisher liked the idea but suggested I focus on just one meat. I was happy to focus on pork as I feel it is the most versatile and affordable meat available for consumers. It is consistent coast to coast and ubiquitous to Canadian cooking.
How did your upbringing influence your passion for pork?
I was raised in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan where my father had the local hardware store. I am the youngest of seven, and food was always centre to the home. We rarely ate out, I probably ate in restaurants a handful of times before I was 15. Growing up in a big farming community in Saskatchewan meant that anytime there was a public function or a wedding, there was always loads of Ukrainian food; kubusa (pork sausage) was everywhere.
My Mom didn’t cook pork all the time, but I grew up with classics like pork chops made in cream of mushroom soup. We always had ham on Christmas Eve dinner – and even today, my go to for the holidays is ham and scalloped potatoes.
What was your inspiration for developing recipes for Living High Off The Hog?
I’ve spent a lifetime as a professional cook, but once I moved to teaching I transitioned to being a home cook and cooking with basic domestic appliances. Coming to Christmas in November for the past 15 years helps me learn what people want to eat in their home, what their skill level in the kitchen is, and what are their challenges. Of course my wife Anna and I always bounce idea off each other, but thinking about the skill level of the average home cook is the main direction for recipe development.
What is your best tip for not overcooking pork?
“Don’t overcook it,” chuckles Olson.
I use a meat thermometer, and I know that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency wants us to cook to upwards of 160°F, but for lean cuts of pork loin roasts I cook to 145°F and give the meat five minutes to rest. The USDA suggests that the National Pork Board recommends cooking Pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and I go with that.
The phrase living high off the hog refers to the rich being able to afford the choicest, lean cuts of meat from a pig. Your cookbook focuses on the affordability of pork, why was that so important to you?
Pork is the biggest bang for the buck for a meat protein. I love beef, seafood and chicken, but pork is the best value. This cookbook features recipes that use a variety of cuts available in any butcher shop or grocery store that will have you feeling like you’re living high off the hog. Many people know my love of BBQ, but this book features recipes that are completely versatile for year-round cooking. From Tuesday night tacos to fancy holiday feasts, this book uses every cut available in the counter. This is a book for home cooks and I wanted to keep it simple.
Statistics suggest that less Canadians are cooking, but the popularity of cooking shows indicate the interest in cooking is there. Why is Living High Off the Hog a good gift for someone who may be new to or interested in cooking?
Throughout the book I’ve tried to make very clear directions and make each recipe achievable with great results; there is a picture for every recipe to help visualize the end result. I don’t think anyone starts cooking with the intention of failing, so I made things very clear to help new home cooks achieve success in the kitchen.
Every time there is a detailed technique in the recipe description I have a processed photo. If you read through the recipe first, gather the ingredients, and look at your timing, I truly believe anyone can cook anything in this book.