Sunday, September 21, 2008

Herb-roasted pork loin

I made this from a recipe published in the Denver Post with commentary by the food section editor, Tucker Shaw. It's a flawed recipe. But I made it better. The result was excellent. I think I'll give the recipe as I received it and then comment on what had to be changed.

Herb-roasted pork loin

1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tbsp thyme leaves plus 6 sprigs
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
10 cloves garlic, smashed
1 center-cut pork loin, about 3 lbs
3 sprigs rosemary, broken into 3-inch pieces
3 sprigs sage
6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided, sliced
Chicken stock for deglazing

Whisk together the mustard, thyme leaves, parsley and 1 tbsp olive oil in a shallow baking dish. Stir in the garlic, and slather the pork with this mixture. Cover and refrgerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Take the pork out of the refreigerator 1 hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature. After 30 minutes, season the pork generously with salt and pepper. Reserve the marinade.

Preheat the oven to 325.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 3 minutes. Swirl in the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot, almost smoking. Place the pork loin in the pan and sear it on all sides until well browned and caramelized. Don't turn it or move the pork too quickly or all the mustard will be left in the pan and not on the pork. The searing process will take 15 - 20 minutes.

Transfer the pork to a roasting rack, and slather the reserved marinade over the meat. Arrange the rosemary, sage and thyme springs on the roast and top with 3 tbsp butter. Roast the pork until a thermometer inserted into the center reads 120, about 1 1/4 hours. Let the pork rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

While the pork is roasting, retrun the pork-searing pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Wait 1-2 minutes, then deglaze it with some chicken stock. Bring to a boil, whisking and scraping the bottom of the pan to release the crispy bits. Swirl in 3 tbsp butter and set aside.

To serve, arrange the haricots verts and spring onions on a large, warm platter. Slice the pork thinly, about 1/4 inch thick and fan the meat over the beans. Add the buttery pork juices and herbs to the sauce, bring to a boil, and then spoon it over the pork.

The first problem is the last paragraph. Where did the haricots verts and spring onions come from? No mention of them until serving time. The second, and biggest, problem is the notion that 120 degrees is a sufficient temperature for pork. It is not, not by 20 degrees. 145 degrees is the temperature deemed sufficiently hot to kill any of those old pork bugaboos, trichina worms, though I read frequently that it is now a rare problem.

I wrote to Tucker but got an out-of-office reply suggesting another staff member to contact. I did so and received the most idiotic reply. The young lady in question said she consulted the original recipe and it too says 120 degrees. I wrote back and told her that in retrospect I didn't need to have written to her. Beef cooked to 120 degress would be utterly rare, even with the carryover cooking during the resting process. I heard no more from her.

I served this roast to guests and could not afford to have squeamish eaters if the center of the pork was too pink. I targeted 145 degrees and it turned out fine, just a trace of pinkitude. Next time I'll go for 140 degrees based on this experience.

Now, some other problems. The marinade was sufficiently thick that it adhered to the roast very well. There was no instruction to do so, but I scraped most of it off before searing the meat. The only pan I had that was big enough to hold my roast (almost 4 lbs instead of 3) was my stovetop grill. Using the griddle (flat) side, I was able to do the sear quite well. However, in spite of having set my heat to medium high instead of high, there was some burning...and there was nothing to deglaze, zip, nada. Next time I will wipe off the marinade completely. That should minimize the burning problem. And it will explain the recipes mention of "reserved marinade," otherwise unexplained.

I didn't mention that I had trussed the roast numerous times to achieve a more or less uniform shape and thickness. I slathered the marinade back over it and stuck the herbs on it. The marinade acted as glue, holding the stems in place. I forgot to put butter on the top. No big deal frankly.

I had a firm timeline related to guest arrival, cocktails and shrimp, and a target eating time. The roast seemed to be ahead of schedule about 45 minutes in so I lowered the temperature of the oven to 300 and, a few minutes later, to 275. I nailed the out-of-the-oven time goal perfectly, tented the roast with foil and left it on the counter.

THERE WERE NO PAN DRIPPINGS in the roasting pan. What the f...? Again, zip, nada. This in spite of a nice layer of fat on the top of the loin. I dropped back several yards and punted by heating up some chicken broth, stealing the herb stalks from the roast, and simmering them for 10-15 minutes after adding a bit of salt and pepper. Whew, saved!

I neglected to add butter to the juice I made, but when I served the pork with it our guests were enchanted. All's well that ends well.

I mentioned that my roast was nearly 4 lbs. All I did was increase by 1/4 all the other ingredients. The next time I make this I intend to strip the herbs from their stems and spread them all over the marinade. Then I will wrap the roast in caul fat. I think I'll blog about caul fat soon... no time right now. And, to reiterate, I believe that Peter and I would be ecstatic at the results of targeting 140 degrees. But 120? No way Jose, no way Tucker Shaw, no way food section minion.

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