Wednesday, November 9, 2011

UnRecipe: Dinner With the Divine Swine

Thanks to countless food-related television shows, pork has been the protein du jour for a good while. And really, why not? Hosts wax poetic over the various parts, the crunch of the crispy-fried skin, the richness of the belly, even the gnawing of its wee-wee curly tail. It's one of those animals where you can pretty much eat it from rooter to tooter, which is probably why it's such a popular meat for so many cultures. I love pork, but for much less exciting epicurean pursuits -- I often have the more vanilla cuts like the tenderloin or shoulder, easily found in grocery stores, and I appreciate it because they can be a quick thing to prepare on a busy weekday. Even if I'm not roasting a suckling pig in my backyard for forty people, I can still find ways to celebrate the fact that it can really be Some Pig!

Double pork rainbow, omigawwwwd -- Photo by Wasabi Prime

Pork tenderloin really is The Other White Meat. It's lean, which is good for health reasons, but that also means there's not much fat, aka, flavor. That just means you have to bring the noise, bring the funk to give it tastiness. Heavy seasoning isn't a bad thing; it can take strong herbs like rosemary very well. However, given it's lack of fat, if you overcook it, it'll go from zero to hockey puck, lickety-split. I usually like to brine the whole tenderloin, season, then pan-sear before roasting the whole thing. Lately, I've been slicing the tenderloin into medallions and pan-searing before letting it simmer in a light sauce or letting the oven finish it off. I decided to cross the streams and use bacon with the tenderloin, wrapping each medallion with a slice of bacon, securing it with a toothpick which definitely gets removed before eating or... OUCH -surprise! For a relatively easy weeknight meal that could work for an at-home date night, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin medallions is a pretty lil' thing to top a roasted carrot puree. Carrots have such a nice color which is retained after it's been cooked, so roasting several pounds of 'em until fork-tender and buzzing with some milk or cream in a food processor until smooth is a sweet, rich side dish for the pork. The carrot puree would also work well with fish or chicken; the sugary sweetness from the carrot is a nice counterpart to milder-flavored meats.

Not fancy, but tasty and fast weeknight meal, with a stuffed pork roast - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The cutting of tenderloin into little medallions and serving over a root vegetable puree is a good "for company" or "make a pretty dinner" dish, but for just us at home, nothin' special, I'll make a pork roast where the oven or slow cooker does a lot of the work. While not picture-pretty, a stuffed pork roulade isn't a bad way to spend the night at home. Like the picture-pretty dish, this one was a bit of a farmers market/CSA special. I had kale, mushrooms, onions and beans. From whatever the Magical Mystery CSA box and impulse buy from the farmers market yields, that's how the meals get decided. I chopped up the mushrooms and kale, cooked them down and that became the filling for the pork roast. The roast is sliced in a way so that it "unravels" into a sort of flattened surface, the filling is spread evenly, and then it's rolled back up and tied. The roulade gets seared in a hot pot, the pork is removed briefly to deglaze the pot's surface with some marsala, lightly cook some thinly sliced onions, and then the pork is placed back into the marsala onion sauce. I sprinkled in some raisins and a dollop of mustard before putting a lid on the pot and letting the oven finish the whole thing. Having one of those meat thermometers where you can leave it in the meat without having to open and close the oven is helpful. In less than an hour, we had fork-tender slices of stuffed pork, with a sweet onion marsala sauce, dotted with raisins. I don't really like raisins, but with pork, they're perfect -- they also work well mixed with apples to stuff pork chops!

Letting the vegetables take the lead for flavor - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Even though a lot of the cuts of pork I use don't have the strongest flavors, I don't mind, as I find it's more interesting to pair them with different vegetables and sides. Especially with a CSA delivery, where you don't always know what's coming, it's nice to have the meat be the neutral part and be creative with how the vegetables and other ingredients push flavor.

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