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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The pig is an encyclopedic animal, a meal on legs.
~Grimod de La Reynière

Yes, it is Thanksgiving Eve with turkey on the collective culinary mind. Here though, duck and goose ever reign on this day saluting poultry. This is not meant as a matter of protest or cultural divergence; but blasphemous as it may sound, standing roast turkeys are often bland and really better relegated to sandwiches.

Now, to thwart any cavil or retort about gobblers (presidential pardon or not) let’s talk “Pork, The Other White Meat.” This iconic-laconic advertising slogan was developed to change public perception of a meat viewed as too fatty to serve guests. A 1987 marketing brainchild of the firm Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt crafted for the National Pork Board, the ubiquitous phrase pitched pork as a white meat alternative to turkey or chicken. It permeated visual and print media nationwide, successfully touting pork’s nutritional value and versatility, and causing America’s cooks to rethink meals.

Industry insiders, showing that ever increasing impatience with anything status quo, have now decided that a new branding strategy and taglines are in order. In the recent past, pork sales have hovered at steady levels, but have not seen the meteoric rise in consumption as has chicken. So, the porkers will adopt a new marketing focus with a yet undisclosed spring 2011 campaign launch date.

While we await the new branding scheme and slogan with bated breath, pork loin will continue to grace our table. I mean the stately, succulent almost bodacious bone-ins.

ROAST PORK LOIN WITH PORT, APPLES & PRUNES

Pork
5 lb. bone in pork loin, bones frenched and trimmed of excess fat
Freshly ground pepper
Fennel seeds, roughly crushed or slightly ground
3 T extra virgin olive oil

2 carrots, peeled and roughly sliced in chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly sliced in chunks
1 turnip, peeled and quartered
1 beet, peeled and quartered
1 whole, plump garlic head, cut transversely
2 fennel bulbs, quartered

Sauce
1 C port
1/2 C chicken stock
1 peeled apple, cut into eighths
8 prunes
1-2 T honey
1 C heavy whipping cream

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
1 T coriander seeds
1 T fennel seeds
4 full thyme sprigs
4 sage leaves
4 rosemary sprigs

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, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Remove pork from brine, rinse thoroughly and dry well. Season with pepper and fennel. Heat a large, heavy skillet with olive oil over medium high and sear pork on all sides until nicely browned. Place pork in a roasting pan, fat side up, and surround with carrots, parsnips, turnip, beet, garlic, and fennel. Basting from time to time, roast for approximately 1 hour, until the internal temperature reads 140 F. The thermometer should be placed into the meat alone and not right next to the bone. Remove to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Also, spoon the now roasted vegetables from the pan and place in a bowl. Again loosely tent with foil.

Heat roasting pan over stove top to high and then deglaze with some of the port. Reduce heat to medium high and add the apple and the prunes and cook some, stirring fairly constantly. Then pour in some chicken stock, cooking further. Drizzle in honey, then cream and cook down until the sauce begins to thicken. Then fortify with port and cook, reducing until sauce has thickened to your liking. Season to taste.

Carve pork into separate rib servings, arrange on plates and drizzle with sauce. Place the remainder of the sauce in a boat and pass.

Savory (& Savvy) Pork

January 29, 2010

I will astonish Paris with an apple.
~Paul Cezanne

Although it serves well in other seasons, roast pork seems true winter fare. Affable victuals cooked with frosted panes and views of snowy roofs. But, wholly aside from the Rockwell images, pork is flat ambrosial…whether cured, roasted, seared, grilled or otherwise.

The venerable and ironically omnivorous domestic pig, Sus domesticus, is one of the more ancient species of livestock—dating back some 8,000 years. Pigs are even-toed ungulates: hoofed animals whose weight is spread evenly by more than one toe. Like ballerinas, ungulates use the tips of their hoofed toes to sustain their body weight while ambulating. Pigs, giraffes, rhinoceri, hippopotami, camels, moose, all en pointe.

Pigs happen to be one of the more socially adept and sage farm species. They are exceptionally adroit animals who adeptly grasp new routines, and their cognitive skills are almost unparalleled in the animal world. Pig acumen is damn awesome. They can cleverly jump hoops, stand and bow, utter linguinstic sounds on command, herd sheep, open cages, and play video games. The pig genome compares favorably with the human genome in many respects, especially with males.

Much like humans, pig teeth have an enamel coating which makes them stauncher and less vulnerable to disease. They masticate and ruminate their chow, having a digestive system that is similar to humans which cannot readily digest unground food. Think more of the swine in Snatch and less of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.

ROAST PORK LOIN WITH HERBS, APPLES & HONEY

3 lb boneless pork top loin roast, trimmed and tied
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut in slivers
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

6 medium leeks, whites only, halved lengthwise
Fresh thyme sprigs
Fresh rosemary sprigs
2 heads fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil

4 apples, cored, peeled and cut into 6 slices each
4 T unsalted butter

1 C cognac or brandy
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
4 T unprocessed, organic honey

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fat side up, stud the pork roast with garlic slivers. Rub the surface first with softened butter and then liberally with salt, pepper, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cradle the pork on a rack in a heavy roasting pan. Strew the leeks, sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and halved garlic heads in the bottom of the pan, drizzled lightly with olive oil.

Roast until medium rare, about 1 hour, basting. During the last 20 minutes, bathe with cognac and apple cider vinegar and drizzle with honey. A thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F when the pork is medium rare. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, tent the pork loin with foil on a platter, and let rest for at least 15-20 minutes. Keep in mind that when the roast is removed from the oven and is resting before carving, it will continue to cook some more, allowing the juices to come back to the center of the roast.

Remove and set aside the leeks, garlic, and herbs. Place pan on stove on medium high and reduce sauce, adding cognac, vinegar and honey to your liking. If you are not facing an appointment with your cardio specialist that week, even treat yourself to some heavy whipping cream on the finish. Reduce sauce until it thickens and coats a spoon.

In the meantime, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the apples in a single layer, and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 5-10 minutes. Drain, and tent with foil to keep warm.

To serve, remove and discard the string. Carve the pork into rather thick slices and serve with apples and leeks nestled alongside, drizzled with sauce.

If you want a subject, look to pork!
~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

In case you have not noticed, I adore dried fruit coupled with meat.

The pork loin runs the length of the pig from shoulder to hip. It entails the shoulder blade at one end, the hip and tenderloin at the other, and the ribs in the middle. The center cut of a boneless loin is the leanest—often folded, then tied.

PORK LOIN, FIGS & APRICOTS

3 C port
2 C chicken broth
8 dried figs, coarsely chopped
6 dried apricots, coarsely chopped
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 cinnamon sticks
3 T honey
6 T unsalted butter, cut into pads, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 T olive oil
2 T fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1/2 C dijon mustard
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 T each of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 T dried rosemary, pinched between thumb and forefinger
1 (4 1/2 lb or so) boneless pork loin

1/2 C port
1/2 C chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 425

In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the port, broth, figs, apricots, rosemary sprigs, garlic and honey. Boil over medium high until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Discard the herb sprigs and cinnamon sticks. Whisk in the butter. Season to taste, with salt and pepper.

Stir the olive oil, rosemary leaves, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl to blend. Place the pork loin on a rack with a heavy roasting pan and rub with salt, pepper and dried rosemary. Spread the oil mixture over the pork to coat completely. Basting occasionally, roast until the thermometer registers 150 degrees, about 45 minutes total.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let the pork rest at least 20 minutes.

Over medium high heat, deglaze the roasting pan with port and later add the chicken broth into the roasting pan, stirring in browned bits. Stir in the fig & apricot juices and bring the pan juices to a vibrant simmer and reduce until somewhat thick, coating the wooden spatula. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.

Carve straight down like a loaf of bread into 1/4″ thick slices. After arranging the on plates, spoon the fig & apricot juice over the pork slices.