Aromatic pork loin
Generally speaking, I think desserts should be sweet and main dishes savory, so I'm not exactly on board with the trend at some fancy restaurants toward meat dishes gussied up with fruit, honey and syrup. A steak really just doesn't need raspberry sauce to perfect it, in my humble opinion.
But I'm willing to make an exception when the fruit is fresh and the dish isn't cloying. Red meats and sweets remain iffy to me; but poultry, or better yet, pork, can take on a whole new personality when it teams up with prunes, fresh figs, or maybe best of all, oranges.
The annual arrival of Satsumas, the deliciously juicy, tart-sweet seedless tangerines that turn up in the market just in time for Christmas, got me in the mood for a pork-and-orange dish, and I found a jumping-off point in a long-out-of-print cookbook, The New Italian Cooking (1980) by Margaret and Franco Romagnoli, amiable hosts of a popular public-television cooking program of the '70s.
As revised, it involves marinating a boneless pork loin in the juice of satsuma oranges, a little white wine, a little Bourbon and a dash of cider vinegar, then covering the meat in crushed juniper berries and bay leaves and braising it in the marinade. It made a delicious dinner but was even better served as a thin-sliced leftover in sandwiches. The aromatics added a delicate haunting orange-and-juniper scent that gently permeated the meat without turning it into a dessert.
(I don't cook nearly as much pork nowadays as in the past, since most commercial pork is injected with a slimy tenderizing liquid. Happily, however, some of our local organic-food markets sell locally produced natural pork. It's worth seeking out, even if you have to pay extra for it.)
INGREDIENTS: (Serves four for dinner or two with leftovers)
2 pounds (a little under 1 kilo) lean, boneless pork loin
1. Peel several thin strips of zest from the Satsumas and set aside. Squeeze the juice, which should yield about 1/2 cup. (NOTE: If Satsumas aren't available, substitute mandarins, tangerines or regular juice oranges. It's worth seeking out Satsumas if you can find them, though, for their sweetness and intensity of flavor.) Mix the fruit juice, wine, Bourbon and vinegar to make a marinade, and put in the rosemary sprig.
2. Put the pork loin in a bowl just large enough to hold it, and pour the marinade over. Leave to marinate at room temperature for 3 or 4 hours, turning it occasionally.
3. Break the dried bay leaves into tiny pieces, then coarsely grind them with the juniper berries in a mortar and pestle. Add about 1/2 teaspoon each sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Spread this spice mix on a plate.
4. Take the pork out of the marinade, reserving the marinade. Roll the pork in the spice mix, patting it on to cover the meat.
5. Put a heavy pot or casserole large enjough to comfortably hold the meat over medium heat with the olive oil. When the oil sizzles, brown the meat well. Pour in the marinade and any of the spice mix that didn't stick to the pork, and add the reserved Satsuma zest; bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer, cover tightly, and cook, turning occasionally, for about 75 minutes, or until the pork reaches an internal temperature around 160F (70C). If the liquid evaporates, add a little water, but this shouldn't be necessary with a tight-fitting lid.
6. Remove the meat to a warm platter to rest for about 10 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, increase heat to reduce the pan liquid until it thickens slightly. Slice the meat and serve with the pan liquid poured over or on the side. Mashed potatoes made a comforting side dish, although it would also work well with rice or pasta.
WINE MATCH: The subtle and complex aromatics of Satsumas, juniper, rosemary and bay could have led in the direction or a Rioja or a Pinot Noir, but we went with something a little more off the beaten path, a jammy and intense 2002 Cynthiana (Norton) from a Kentucky producer, Lovers' Leap.
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Coincidentally, one of my Food Lovers' Discussion Group pals recently posted a somewhat similar pork-and-orange recipe, "Aromatic roast pork in the style of Provence." Here's the recipe:
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Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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