Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Supper (Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel, Apples, and Onions)

Growing up my family was fairly lax and permissive. My sisters and I understood that to incur our parents disappointment was a very bad thing, and we typically knew it was best to toe the line. So, to say that family dinners were a strict tradition would be to overdo it, but until soccer practices, drama rehearsals, choir recitals, et all dominated the evening, we almost always had dinner together at home.


My parents would take shifts on preparing dinner, but overall I think it was my mother who made most of the meals. I remember her writing out recipes and grocery lists in her tiny, perfect script. Meals were planned for the week and purchased in a massive shopping trip that usually involved all the kids.

One of my mother's go-to family dinner recipes is a pork loin marinated in honey, mustard and thyme, then roasted in the oven with potatoes. I think she knew to pick her battles and try to insist on introducing rare vegetables to finicky children. I'm lucky I've matured, then, because fennel bulb has some serious mojo.

I only knew fennel as a kid from Italian sausage, but I did manage to understand that something about the flavor of those seeds was magic. People typically describe fennel as an anise flavor, which is certainly true, but I think it shortchanges the vegetable. It's not something you taste and immediately picture black licorice, it's far subtler than that. Fennel bulb does have a sweetness to it, so it's perfect in conjunction with pork and apples.

A word of caution, ladies and gents, when preheating the pan to sear your pork, exercise patience. Set it to medium-high and wait for the pan to come to temperature. Don't crank it to max and try to compensate, as I did. The consequences are... unfortunate.

Tasty pork, ruined pan
Why, yes, that is smoke I'm blowing away from the pork loin to take the picture. Oops. Please, learn from my mistakes. As is so often the case, time is of the essence in the kitchen. It did really sear in the flavor, though.

It's all good
Roast pork loin with fennel, onions, and apples + Bourbon brown butter

Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1 Pork loin
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
4 tbs fresh rosemary, chopped
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, sliced, stalk and fronds, chopped
1 Mayan sweet onion (or Spanish onion), chopped
2-3 ginger gold apples, chopped
1/2 c Bourbon whiskey
4 tbs butter, cubed

Prepare a marinade for the pork by combining 2 tbs olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, two tablespoons each fresh fennel fronds and rosemary, and salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle over the pork, massage in, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

Herbal supplements
Half  an hour or so before your begin cooking, retrieve the pork from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature. I know I say this a lot, but: preheat your oven to 400° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Reserve another two tablespoons of chopped fennel fronds and toss the remaining fennel on the parchment with the onion, apples, remaining 2 tbs of extra virgin olive, salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes, until slightly wilted and golden, darkening at the edges.

Precious cargo
Set a stainless steel pan on medium-high heat and allow to come to temperature. Sear the pork on all sides, about 2-3 minutes each. Place the seared pork loin atop your roasted vegetables and return to the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

The transformation complete

Bring the pan with the brown bits from searing the pork back to medium-low heat, and add the bourbon to deglaze, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking until the liquid is almost completely evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Add the butter to the pan, allow to melt, and increase the heat back to medium-low. Allow to cook about 10 minutes more, stirring frequently. Watch carefully to ensure the butter doesn't burn, but allow it to come to a light, golden brown color. It should smell slightly nutty. Immediately pour into another container and stir in the remaining fennel fronds and rosemary.

Slice the pork loin on a carving board and serve by piling roasted fennel and apples onto a plate, topping with slices of roasted pork, and drizzling with a tablespoon or so of the hot, herby butter.

The finishing touch



Unknown said...

Sorry about the pan--smoke made an interesting photo effect!

J said...

I think it is pretty cool how the exposure captured the smoke, rendering it as a smooth mist. I'll really miss the pan, but lesson learned!

My mother always said: "patience is a jewel in the crown of wisdom."