Sunday, June 26, 2005

Recipe Blogging: Brined Pork Loin

I was turned on to brining pork some years back when watching a show by Ming Tsai on FoodTV. I've come to the point where I brine most all larger pork cuts, be they thick chops or hefty loins. Brining's a great technique for keeping the pork very juicy and tender, plus it's a great way to infuse the cut of meat with great flavors. I've got a couple different riffs I use for pork. This one's my psuedo-Eastern variant. Check the Notes section for a psuedo-Southwestern variant.

Brined Pork With Bitter Vegetables (psuedo-Eastern Style)

Serves 6 - 8

1 x 2 lb pork loin, trimmed of fat (NOT a pork tenderloin!) ~1 qt water 1/3 c. kosher salt 1/2 c. sugar 2 bay leaves 5 - 8 green cardamon pods, cracked open 5 - 8 black cardamon pods, cracked open 2 star anise 2 - 4 pieces dried orange peel 2 Tbs Chinese style soy sauce 1 large bunch arugula (~2 c.) (radicchio works well here too) 1/4 red onion, cut into 1/4" slices
  • Pour the water in a heavy saucepan. Add the salt, sugar, bay leaves, both cardamons and star anise to the water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and leave to steep and cool.
  • When the brine is cool, place the loin in a large ziplock bag. Pour in the brine, squeeze the air out of the bag and seal.
  • Place the ziplock bag in a shallow bowl and leave in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, turn the bag over. (Often the top side of the loin peeks out of the brine. Turning keeps the little bugger evenly brined.)
  • About 90 minutes before serving, pull the pork out of the brine and rinse well. Pat dry, cover with a bit of plastic wrap and leave in a plate on the counter to allow it to get a bit closer to room temperature. (See Notes.)
  • Get a HOT fire going off to one side, not the center, in your grill. I use charcoal and don't have any experience with gas grills. (See Notes for info on my charcoal use.)
  • When the coals are hot, place a small disposable aluminum pan near the center of the grill.
  • Working directly over the coals, sear the meat on all sides. This usually takes about 1-2 minutes per side depending on how hot your fire is and how close it is to the grill. Make sure to get all sides of the meat, including the ends.
  • Pour liquid in the aluminum pan (beer, apple juice, or orange juice all work very well, all with subtle differences), then place the meat over the pan. Cover the grill and cook for 30 - 45 minutes until a quick read thermomneter reads 145F. (See Notes)
  • Remove the meat from the grill, tent with aluminum foil, and cover with a couple kitchen towels to help preserve the heat.
  • Let rest for 10 minutes. The meat's temperature will continue to rise a few degrees, plus the meat will firm up and won't lose all its juices when you cut it.
  • While the meat is resting, place a sautee pan over high heat. Rinse the arugula and let drain a bit. Sautee the onions for a few moments in some olive oil. Toss in the arugula and sautee until slightly wilted. Remove from the pan. (See Notes)
  • Slice thinly the pork and place on a platter. Cover with the arugula/onion mix and serve.
  • Do NOT leave your pork loin out in a blisteringly hot spot in the kitchen, okay? Please?
  • I use a charcoal chimney starter filled with briquettes (mine's even cheaper than the Weber). When those are hot I dump them in my grill and pour on a large heap of hardwood lump charcoal. The lump charcoal gives the food great flavor, the briquettes longer lasting heat.
  • I have a passle of lava stones in my charcoal grill which are normally used for gas grills. I do a lot of indrect cooking where the meat's off to the side of the coals. The lava stones make a great heat mass, distributing the heat from the coals evenly throughout the rest of the grill.
  • Overcooked meat is awful, but undercooked is nasty and potentially unhealthy. Various chefs I've heard have all said 137F is the magic number to kill off the nasty bugs which may live in your cut of pork. The extra temp here is for security, but still leaves the pork nice and moist -- plus the brining helps ensure moistness.
  • The bitter arugula or radicchio gives a wonderful contrast to the pork's sweetness. This is an Italian cooking trick I learned from another FoodTV cook: Mario Batali.
  • Southwestern variant: Leave out the cardamons, star anise and orange peel. Instead use 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns.
  • Last bit of TV chef wisdom: Don't panic if you char one side of the meat. Make sure to let the meat rest after removing from the grill. Then use a good, sharp knife and cut the meat very, very thinly. We're talking nearly lunchmeat thin. Having the meat so thin really reduces the impact of any char I mean slightly overdone portion. I learned this from Iron Chef Sakai who I saw once badly zorch a cut of pork. He never let on that he'd overcooked the meat. Instead, he sliced it very thin and got terrific compliments from the tasting panel. Who says TV ain't educational?

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