Monday 28 September 2015

Roast pork loin in a balsamic dressing with lentils, crackling and pickled apple salad

Ye-es, one of the least snappiest blog titles. This is a whole dish recipe. Maybe I should split them up later. But they played so well together!

One of the best tasting things I've ever made. Not the pork actually but the pickled apple salad. The dressing was a revelation. 

This was a development exercise, which is what I call 'cooking for friends' now. If you eat for free I get to experiment on you. With development I'm focusing only on flavour. Sod the presentation. That will come, or not. I'm less and less concerned about that anyway.

With this dish I wanted to check three things:

1. The pork recipe, based on a Jamie Oliver dish.
2. That you could cook and keep lentils warm in a rice cooker.
3a. That pickled apples went well with both.
3b. That pickled apples worked at all.

It's odd that you don't see pickled apples much, especially in Britain, with our abundance. They are delicious and easy; pretty much fool proof.

The apples are prepped in exactly the same way as the pears I did last month. Make a sugar syrup 1:1 of sugar and cider vinegar. Use the best you can afford; this liquor will also be used as a dressing. Add whole, peeled, cored apples. Add some aromatics - orange peel, half a lemon, some cloves and a cinnamon stick. Bring gently to the boil and allow to cool. 

I served the apples cut into eighths but they don't look so great and can be squidgy at the edges. I'm going to cut thick rings on my mandolin and put them into the hot syrup instead. With something that thin I won't boil them.

The dressing transforms simple lambs lettuce. It goes brilliantly with roast pork. The sweetness and acidity working well with the deep roast saltiness and umami. 

For the dressing I mixed... Oh Lord, I have no idea of the ratios. This was cooking with friends so I may have been drinking myself - before, during and after. More good extra virgin olive oil than pickling liquor, that's all I can be sure of. Salt and pepper, of course. Nothing else... apart from a dash of this stuff: Manzana Verde, an apple liqueur from Briottet. I've had this bottle for years and it still smells like the just cut skin of a fresh Granny Smith. You probably won't have any. Sorry. I hate recipes that require you to have brought something back from the bloody Kasbah in '62. I don't do it often. Vinegar and liqueurs are my weakness. Don't be tempted to use anything green though that you haven't touched since last Boxing Day, none of your Sourz please.
The pork. Prompted mainly by a desire to use different cuts of pork - I've done a lot of shoulder, leg and belly recently. This recipe features a medium priced loin. The joint pictured (from F. Normans in Oakwood) weighs about 1.7 kilo, cost about £18 and will feed six people. 

Ask your butcher to chine the joint, so it's easier to cut and serve later, and to score the skin (and retain it!), leaving the soft white fat. Preheat the oven to 240°C. Lay the scored skin out flat and rub it dry. Salt it well.

In a deep roasting tray place the loin on a couple of chopped onions, a whole bulb of garlic chopped in two and then roughly hacked and a good handful of rosemary and thyme - lemon thyme if you can get it. Wet the pan with some water (not much) or some Marsala if you have it. Put the tray on the middle rack of your oven. Now place the skin straight onto the bars of a rack and position it so the skin will drip onto the meat.

Cook like this for 20 minutes. Expect some smoke.

After 20 minutes of 240°C

During which, take a whole 250ml bottle of balsamic vinegar and heat it gently in a pan. Obviously you won't want the good stuff - the subtleties will be lost in the oven. 

Lower the oven temp to 160°C and pour the hot balsamic all over the pork. Return to roast. Timings are notoriously difficult with meat and should never be taken as a rule but this is what I did: 40 minutes at 160°C and then another ten at 180°C. Baste every 15 minutes.

Your pork should be around 63°C, no more than 70°C unless you enjoy the texture of your father's flip-flops. Of course, you'll find a range of temps all over the meat. This should be equalised by the resting. Remember the meat's core temp will increase while resting by maybe 3-4°C.

I removed the loin and allowed it to rest, leaving the skin (now transformed into crackling) in to really crisp up. Drain off the cooking liquids and skim (and retain!) the fat - easier if you pop it in the fridge for a while. I usually cover my joints with some tin foil and a bath towel; keeps warm for hours - literally. My fridge is full of beef and pork fats; one of those home-cooked touches that does make a difference.

After 60-70 minutes, it will look like this.

Keep an eye on the crackling: golden brown is good, dark is bad. I discovered that the French, at least my French guest, have no word for crackling. Neither do the Finns. The Spanish do though: chicharrón I know, how very metropolitan am I?

Lentils were cooked in my rice cooker. I've had some recent success with polenta and I wanted to see if pulses worked too. Something I can cook and forget is ideal. On the side I'd prepared a mix of small diced onion, carrot and celery that I'd slow cooked to golden in a pan that I'd rendered off some pancetta. This was heated up at the last minute and mixed with the warm lentils.

To serve: pile lentils and veg mix on the plate. Top with a thick carve of the loin and pour over some of the balsamic roasting juices. It's easier to turn the loin rib side up so you can see the gaps in the bone and cut through those. 

Toss some lambs lettuce in your apple dressing and add a few apple pieces on the side. Top the meat with a couple of pieces of crackling. This is rich, sweet, salty, tasty. A great autumn weekend dinner.

I'll refine this dish over the next few weeks and either do an edit or a new blog.

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