kitchen firsts: roast pork loin

30 July, 2010 at 4:05 pm 1 comment

When we prepared our first pork shoulder for the Fourth of July, I realized that there are actually quite a few cuts of pork that I’ve never cooked with, which is surprising given how much we like pork around here. We decided to continue the “summer of pork” by roasting a pork loin for the first time (I know it’s a little hot to be roasting in the oven, but it only takes 3o minutes at 375!), and I was delighted to learn how versatile and simple this cut of pork and cooking method can be.

For me, the most surprising thing I learned about cooking a pork loin is that it is really easy! All you have to do is butterfly the hunk of meat, smear some seasonings on the inside, roll it back up and tie it, and it’s ready to go. You use a cast-iron or other oven-safe pan to give the roast a nice sear on all sides, then roast it for about a half hour and you have a lovely roast, and the elegant little swirl of seasonings in the finished and sliced roast make it a great centerpiece for a dinner party. The cut is reasonably priced, and the minimal prep effort, short cooking time, and nice presentation make it a great option for a gathering.

The other thing I appreciate about roasting a pork loin is that now that I’ve done it, I can see just how versatile this recipe is. The method, prep and cooking time can remain the same, but you can tailor the resulting effect by changing your seasonings. We considered a lot of flavor options for our pork loin, and in the end we went for the most basic of them all– a simple but flavorful combination of garlic, lemon, and black pepper. But I’m also including a delicious recipe for a mix of fresh sage, rosemary and garlic, which produces fabulous results as well. We enjoyed the lighter, citrusy version for a summer dinner, but I think in the fall I’ll be relying more heavily on the savory herbed version. Either way, roast pork loin is staying on my menu for hassle-free entertaining.

I do have to make one confession related to this post, and that is that I do not have a flying clue about how to properly tie a roast with butcher’s twine. I kind of forgot that I would have to do this, so I didn’t prepare for it at all, and luckily I was able to salvage and tie together two shortish lengths of twine from a turkey lacing set in my junk drawer to make a suitable length of twine. Then I tried looking up how to tie it, and I read about it, looked at diagrams of it, and watched videos of people doing it, and still, when it came down to my turn I could NOT do it. So, I decided not to stress about it and I basically just tied a bunch of dumb looking knots in my twine until it was holding my pork roulade together in a suitable way. It made it a little bit more involved to remove (I had to snip in a couple of places rather than just clipping it and pulling it off), but this made basically no difference in my experience with the pork. So, if you don’t know how to do it, don’t look to me for tips, but feel free to try to figure it out somewhere else. And don’t stress about that step, basically you just need the roll to stayed rolled, so whatever configuration of wraps and knots keeps your pork together will be fine. And if you can teach me how to tie a roast, let me know!

Interesting pork loin treatments of a different nature, elsewhere: Mustard-Rubbed Pork Loin (sear the loin first, then rub with a vinegar-mustard-tarragon-chives-parsley mixture), and a crazy “Cuban Chinese” Roast Pork Loin from Susan Feniger (of Top Chef Masters) with beer, orange juice, honey, soy sauce, sherry, hoisin, and five spice.

Garlic Lemon-Pepper Pork Roast
Rub adapted from My Bread, by Jim Lahey
Serves 4-6

One 2-lb pork loin roast (it’s ok if it’s a little smaller or larger)
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 T chopped garlic
1 T oil

(see method below)

Garlic and Herb Pork Roast
Adapted from Salt to Taste, by Marco Canora
Serves 4-6

One 2-lb pork loin roast
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped garlic
salt and pepper
2 T oil

Method for either roast:

With a sharp knife, butterfly your roast by slicing most of the way through the long-side, like a hotdog bun. Open up your roast and it should lay nice and flat. In a little bowl, combine your rub ingredients: mix together the chopped herbs and garlic with a generous dose of salt and pepper and a little glug of oil to pull it together, or combine the lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Rub the garlic herb or garlic lemon stuff all over the open face of your roast, then, starting from a long end, roll your roast up into a little pork log and secure it with butcher’s twine (if you want to do it the right way, check out this video, but if you’re too lazy to follow complex directions just tie a few loops around it to hold the roll together tightly and call it good). At this point you can refrigerate the roast if you aren’t ready to cook it right away.

When you’re ready to start, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and set a cast-iron or other oven-safe skillet over medium high heat with a glug of oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Season your roast on the outside with salt and pepper, and when the pan is really hot, place the roast in the pan to sear. Turn it with tongs as it starts to brown, until you’ve got a nice sear on all sides of the roast, including the ends.

When the roast is browned all over, place it in the oven in the cast-iron for 30 minutes, stopping at the 15 minute mark to turn the roast and baste with any accumulated juices. After 30 minutes your roast should register 140 degrees on a meat thermometer, and when it does, remove it from the oven and let it rest in the cast-iron for 15 minutes, tented with foil, before slicing and serving. You can spoon a little of the pan juices over the pork when serving, or reserve them to make some kind of gravy or pan sauce. Enjoy!


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