Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pigging Out (Herb-Crusted Pork Loin)

Pork is a slightly neglected and unappreciated meat in the U.S. Coming in third behind chicken and beef, it can be easy to overlook. Bacon aside, Aaron and I were never huge pork eaters, but when his sister Sarah and her husband Seth started raising and butchering their own hogs, we suddenly had a lot more pork on the menu. The other white meat has a lot to recommend it. It's easy to cook and features a mild, sweet flavor that's more distinctive than chicken and readily lends itself to all sorts of permutations, though they often feature fruit, sugar, and spices to play off the natural sweetness of the meat. To welcome the Spring green leaves, I chose to employ a melange of fresh herbs and a sprinkle of lavender blossoms for extra floral goodness. The end result is a tender, flavorful pork loin perfumed like fresh Spring.

Of course, now it's summer, but you get the idea
It's really a testament to just how tasty pigs are that two major world religions can outright forbid them and they still get to come in third place. I learned in college theology that these proscriptions were really something like ancient health codes, enacted in wariness of an omnivorous forager that enjoys wallowing in muck, has a sometimes casual relationship with cannibalism, and a nasty habit of carrying trichonosis. The advance of modernity has curbed these concerns. Proper diet and nutrition cut down on the savaging, and the FDA has reduced the regulations around trichonosis such that pork can now be cooked to only a relatively cool 140 degrees F and still be considered safe to eat. The antiquated notion of extra risks is outweighed by the impressive flavor, quick cooking times, and overall healthiness of the meat. There are six cuts of pork, including the tenderloin, that offer more protein and less fat than a similar portion of salmon.

This recipe features a few particular instructions that may seem curious. The meat is supposed to rest slightly before cooking for the same reason all meats should get a brief break from refrigeration: cold meat on a hot pan is a temperature shock. This precipitous change in temperature can make the meat seize up and become tough, so letting it take off the edge of the chill means a tastier finished product. The short stint at room temperature is also an advantage for the marinade. A long soak overnight in a cold fridge would be time intensive, and the chill is partially intended to slow down the marinating process. Warmer molecules are in faster motion, so a warmer marinating temperature means flavors can penetrate deeper and faster. The quick 15 minute marinade is more than enough to impart full flavors.

Searing in flavor
Tenderloin is an easy cut of meat to work with. It requires little trimming, cooks quickly, and is handily sliced into perfect medallions, ready for the plate. A quick sear on the outside is pretty much the only hands-on time required. Contrary to popular belief, searing does not "sear in the juices." Meat will dry at relatively the same rate whether it's seared or not. Instead, the searing process is to create a tasty, golden crust that might not develop in the more indirect heat of the oven. You don't need to sear in the flavor, but you do need some high direct heat to encourage the Maillard browning reactions that help develop it. A quick 30-minute meal that will easily have you eating like a king, this simple herb-crusted pork loin is certainly worth a try.

Just right

Herb-crusted pork loin

1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon evoo
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon fresh chives, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 teaspoon lavender blossoms
1 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of salt
Pork tenderloin, about 1 1/2-2 pounds
Preheat an oven to 450 F.

Toss garlic and herbs in a small bowl and add mustard, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Stir in the lavender blossoms, pepper, and salt and mix thoroughly.

Herbal remedy
Remove the pork loin from its packaging, rinse with cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a gallon ziplok bag and coat with marinade, then seal with as little air as possible.
Marinate at room temperature while the oven is preheating, about 15 minutes, you want to take chill off meat before hits the screaming hot skillet.

Warm an oven-safe skillet to medium-high heat and sear the tenderloin on all sides, about two to three minutes each. Then pop the skillet in the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes, until the meat is 140 degrees F. Some slight central pinkness is okay and even desirable, provided it's at temperature.

Tent the meat loosely with aluminum foil and allow to rest for ten to fifteen minutes, then slice crosswise with a sharp knife into thin medallions. Serve immediately.

 This post is also available as an article in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

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