Ever Penmates: Pork & Cabbage

April 28, 2012

When a match has equal partners, then I fear not.
~Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Why have pork and cabbage always dated so swimmingly? What or who has wed this enduring union? No matter where the sod — Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Nicaraguan, Slavic, Mexican, Russian, Fillipino, Italian, Malaysian, Salvadoran, Scandavanian, Korean, Spanish and so many more — cuisines have embraced this classic, balanced pair. Perhaps at first shrouded, this later less timorous, now nearly brazen, affair between swine and this leafy green has unfolded. While they both comprehend and consent to the polyamorous nature of their bond, both free to rendezvous and nestle with others elsewhere, they are such the match when coupled.

Cabbage is a biennial, dicotyledonous flowering plant from the family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae), related to related to kale, broccoli, collards and Brussels sprouts. It is distinguished by a short stem upon which is crowded a mass of leaves. The cultivated cabbage is derived from a leafy plant called the wild mustard plant, native to littoral regions in the Mediterranean. Others claim that that wild cabbage was first brought to Europe around 600 BCE by Celtic wanderers. The elder half, pigs were domesticated as early as 13,000 BCE in the Tigris River basin…quite the age discrepancy for a couple these days.

Pork and cabbage have natural affinities for one another. The tart, crisp cabbage accentuates the succulent, rich pork allowing the flavors to mingle and mellow. Then, on the back end the pork juices permeate the hearty cabbage until a like harmony is reached. A sort of magical choir of food between the two.

Some have even asserted that the couple just aims to seek neutrality on the plate as cabbage is somewhat alkaline (pH 7.5), while pork is more acidic (pH 5.5). Sort of a Jack Sprat, opposites attract thing. Sounds a touch numerical for a loving pair, but who ever knows what makes things click? It does seem ironic, though, that “cabbage” is slang for a fool or simpleton while pigs are considered so savvy, clever.

PORK LOIN ROAST & CABBAGE

5 lb pork loin roast, bone in, brined

Freshly ground black pepper
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T duck fat

Brine
8 C cold water
1 C sea salt
1 C raw sugar
1 C chicken stock
1/4 C apple cider vinegar

6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1 T black peppercorns
1 T multi-hued peppercorns (red, white, green)
1 T mustard seeds, toasted
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
2 bay leaves
4 full thyme sprigs
4 sage leaves
4 rosemary sprigs

Cabbage Mix
1 head green cabbage, halved, cored and sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored, peeled and sliced
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 fresno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 jalapeno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 T caraway seeds, toasted
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Juice of 4 oranges

1-2 C chicken stock

1 whole garlic clove, sliced transversely

Finish
3 T Dijon mustard
2 T apple cider vinegar
2-3 C dry Riesling or Pinot Gris, preferably Alsatian

Orange zest
Cilantro leaves

Toast mustard and carraway seeds in a small heavy skillet until just fragrant. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine all brine ingredients in a large deep pot. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the salt, sugar and liquids are thoroughly mixed. Pour into a large bowl or deep pan and allow to cool completely. Once the brine is fully cooled, drop the trimmed pork into a container which will keep the meat fully submerged. Should the pork tend to rise to the surface, weight down with a heavy plate or lid. Allow to brine several hours, much preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Remove pork from brine, rinse thoroughly and dry well. Season with pepper and carraway seeds. Heat a large, heavy roasting pan with olive oil and duck fat over medium high and and rub cloves into the pan surface for a minute or two. Discard garlics and then, sear pork loin on all sides until nicely browned. Remove pork from pan and place onto a platter or rimmed baking sheet.

Meanwhile, in a very large bowl combine and toss the cabbage, fennel, onions, chiles, toasted caraway seeds, salt, pepper and orange juice.

Over two burners, deglaze the pan with chicken stock over medium high to high heat, using a wooden spatula to scrape the bottom. Add the cabbage mixture and with the garlic halves placed on the side, top with the seared pork. Place uncovered into the oven and roast, basting throughout, until the internal temperature (plunged in the flesh away from a bone) reads between 140-145 F, about 1 hour.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven and place onto the stovetop. Carefully remove pork from pan and set aside on a cutting board, loosely tented, and allow to rest. Turn heat to high, then reduce to medium high, add mustard and apple cider vinegar to cabbage mixture in the pan and stir to combine thoroughly. Then add wine and reduce.

Carve pork into separate rib servings, arrange each on plates over a nest of cabbage. Spoon the sauce over and around the pork and then garnish first with a hint of orange zest then cilantro leaves.

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