Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Succulent Loin of Pork"

When did "Pork Chops" become "Succulent Loin of Pork?"  When a Marketing executive took hold of a restaurant menu, that's when.  People don't go out to eat and order "Pork Chops," but they'll fork over a wad of cash for some "Succulent Loin of Pork!"

Let's call a spade, a "spade," ok?  If you shave the bones off the back of a pig's baby-back ribs, you'll have a pork loin.  If you cut medallions off of this loin, you'll have chops.  If you cut medallions off of this loin from between the bones, you'll have bone-in pork chops.  Sam's and Costco both sell whole pork loins, and if you're careful when you cook them, you can make your own succulent loin of pork for your table.

First item of note, the whole pork loin is NOT the same as a pork "tenderloin."  The tenderloin is an entirely different cut of meat.  It's the "Filet Mignon" of the pig and is much smaller, more expensive, and while it is worthy of it's own show, we won't talk about it in this article.  The second item to note, is that whole pork loins have very little fat in them, and while this makes them exceptionally good for you, it also means they are tricky to cook properly.  Low-fat means "low forgiveness" and you can easily overcook this delightful treat and turn it into a chunk of white leather if you're not careful.  Ready?

You'll need:
  • One whole pork tenderloin
  • A spool of butcher's twine or cotton string, OR
  • An oven safe elastic netting for roasts (available for free from most butcher counters)  Just be sure to get one that is long enough to fit your pork loin.
  • A pound of good bacon (I know, its about the loin but you'll need bacon.  Trust me.)
  • Salt 
  • Pepper
  • Chili powder 
  • Brown sugar
  • Digital oven safe probe thermometer

Open the pork loin package and slide the loin into a clean sink.  Rinse it off, and pat it as dry as you can with a few paper towels.  Move to a clean work surface and stretch it out.  Notice that it kind of "settles" under it's own weight.  To make it easier to transport or to move around on the grill, etc, we'll need to truss it up.  Before we truss, we have a decision to make...  Should we leave it whole?  I love to leave it whole. It makes for an amazing presentation at dinner time, when you bring out that huge hunk of meat, it's a beautiful thing!  The problem is, most folks don't have an oven or a grill that can hold such a long chunk of pork.  You may need to cut it in half.  You could always cut chops off of it, but that's another dish.  The pictures here illustrate a whole pork loin, cut in half "for your convenience."  What you see here is 1/2 a whole loin, trussed in cotton butcher's twine, into a nice cylinder that is easy to work with.

Shake on some salt and pepper to taste, then shake on a fairly liberal mix of brown sugar and chili powder.  Roll the loin so that you cover all surfaces, then...

and here's the fun part, wrap it bacon!  Why?  To serve this dish so that it is truly succulent, moist, and delicious, you'll need some fat to season it.  That's just a fact.  In addition to adding flavor, the layer of bacon also helps seal the loin so that critical juices aren't lost to steam during the cooking process.  How much bacon you add is entirely up to you.  Obviously, I like to go a little crazy.

What you see above is a lot more than a pound of bacon.  Sorry.  I know I told you you'd need a pound of bacon.  I cooked this dish a second time, following my own instructions.  It came out like this:

Either way you choose, you'll need to anchor your bacon with toothpicks.  Stick your toothpicks in on a straight line and count them, so you'll know you got them all out when you're done cooking.

Now, to the heat.  You could put this dish in the oven, no problem.  It would be fantastic and delicious.  Why not bring up the flavor quotient a bit by adding some apple wood smoke from the grill, hmm?  If you do put it on the grill, make sure it's not over direct heat.  Bacon fat + hot coals makes fire, fire makes char, and you'll burn this thing before you know it.  Push all the coals to the front or the back of the grill and lay the loin on the other side, on a nice layer of non-stick foil (non-stick foil is one of the finest inventions of man).  Close the lid and bring your grill (or your oven) to a fairly low temperature.  300 works very well for this application, you want to cook the loin without burning the bacon, so lower temps are better.  Open the lid and turn the pork two or three times during the cooking process so that it cooks evenly.

When is it done?  It's done when the middle of the beast is exactly 145 degrees or hotter.  According to the USDA, 145 is "safe."  The problem is, 145 degrees in pork is a little on the rare side of medium.  Some people are skittish about pink pork and even though it's perfectly safe, they'd rather it be closer to 155.  I pull mine at 150, and then let it rest.  During the rest, it cooks up to 153-155 degrees.  If you bring it to 160 or hotter, you're only drying it out.   The only way to be sure is with an oven safe probe thermometer.  If you don't have one yet, get one!! 

Here she is!  Having rested for about 10 minutes under a loose foil tent, I removed the foil and pulled all 16 of the toothpicks out.  Then I simply sliced off some 1.5" disks.  The juices were evenly distributed and the medallions were flavorful, succulent, super juicy, and as soft as a baby's freshly powdered butt!

I would serve this with a baked apple side-dish that some walnuts in it (for crunch), and with a garden salad that had a tart vinaigrette.  Maybe some bacon-wrapped bundled asparagus, too?

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