As I posted on Tuesday, I recently made dinner for my new roommates. Not being able to fit all the wonders into one post, I decided to split it into three. Tuesday we saw the hors d’oeuvres and the wine, and next Tuesday we’ll see the chocolate pudding dessert. Today, though, the meat of the meal.
Literally. Let’s talk about some meat. We don’t talk about meat all that much at FJ, both because of concerns of localness/sustainability and also because…well, because we’re po’ and often cooking for just ourselves, and so despite the occasional splurge or reasonably priced roast chicken or the now ubiquitous butter burger, we often stick to veg product (and bulk food items, and bacon). And that’s a shame, because meat is delicious, and doesn’t absolutely have to destroy the earth.
Another reason I think a lot of you might avoid cooking much meat, or slightly nicer cuts of meat, is because you don’t know how to do it. For one thing, that’s silly. Meat is not that hard to cook. For another, this recipe makes it even sillier, because it is so, so very easy.
This is a recipe from the October issue of Bon Appétit, and comes originally from a restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. It’s a southern take on an Italian dish, and the mix is interesting and profitable. After all, what is polenta if not almost exactly like grits? Both are ground corn (basically cornmeal, but a coarser grind), though polenta is usually yellow cornmeal and grits are usually white. There are also such things as hominy grits, which are ground hominy (hominy is corn that has been soaked in lye or lime to remove the husk), but those are a bit out of the purview of this blog, or at least of this post.
Anyway, back to the meat: Again, I repeat, this pork roast could not be easier. Get yourself a good piece of meat. I could only find a boneless roast (the recipe calls for bone-in pork rib roast, which will have slightly more flavor than boneless), but it was still a beauty, and at $10/lb., $15 of meat was more than enough to feed three people.
Now, you could really just follow the recipe starting with browning it in a pan (which will caramelize the outside and develop flavor) and then roasting it, and you would have a great final product. This recipe steps things up a bit by adding a brine, which I had actually never done before. The brine means you need to plan ahead a little and get started the night before, but it is super-simple. The idea of a brine is it helps keep meat moist and juicy, while also imparting a little bit of flavor. I would get into the science of it, but this article does it more thoroughly than I ever could. Take my word for it, though: brining works. How do I know? This was one of the juiciest little porkers I’ve ever had, and certainly ever cooked myself.
There are just a few things to remember when you’re brining. You want to measure things pretty carefully, though no need for absolutely exactly, because if you put too much salt in, the meat will taste, duh, too salty. Similarly, you don’t want to let the meat sit in the brine for much longer than the recipe recommends because, a little less obvious duh, the meat will get too salty. But follow the recipe and you’ll be good to go. (This recipe says “chill overnight,” so it’s a pretty wide time range; you don’t, however, want to let the pork sit in the brine for two nights, say.)
Other than that, I think the recipe is pretty clear. Onto brief notes on the sides:
Kevin already explained how to cook collard greens last week. In the interest of ease, and not having to obtain a ham hock, I just followed the Bon Appétit recipe, which is a little different in one big way: it doesn’t have any pork in it. So normally I would avoid a wimped out recipe like that, but since it was being served with pork, it seemed kind of valid to dial down the porkiness just slightly. They were great, and I learned the valuable trick that if you totally oversalt greens (hypothetically speaking, of course), a good dousing of red wine vinegar will completely counteract your error.
As for polenta, I deviated pretty far — or as far as one can with a dish as basic as polenta — from the Bon Appétit recipe. First, I substituted low-salt chicken broth (I had some leftover from the greens) for half of the water. Second, I added a liberal dusting of cayenne, which I think is really important to pep things up. It stood me in good stead with my roommates, who both commented that they liked that I seasoned it so confidently. Especially in this pretty rich meal, a little spice is great (and a great complement for the sparkling red wine). Also, I don’t know why the recipe says it takes 30 minutes to cook; I used yellow cornmeal, basically, and it took about 3 minutes. Maybe it would thicken if I cooked it longer? More likely, I think, I was supposed to use a coarser grind, but yellow cornmeal is what I could find, and it’s probably what you’ll find, and so you should count on 3 minutes.
Anything else? The timing is important here, as it is whenever you’re cooking more than one thing. Start the pork, then prep the collards, then do the polenta at the last minute. Oh yeah, I didn’t make the pan jus for the pork. There, I admit it. When there’s a nice piece of pork sitting there, rested, ready to go, do you really want to be doing more work and dirtying another pot? You can make it, and I’m sure it’s wonderful (and please report back in the comments if you do), but I’ll tell you, the drippings that collected in the pan when I sliced the pork were enough for me.
And now, without further ado, the recipes!
Pork Roast with Pan Drippings
(Adapted from Bon Appétit)
Makes 3 to 4 servings.
– 16 cups water, divided
– 1 cup coarse kosher salt
– 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
– 1 small onion, quartered
– 1 small head of garlic, unpeeled, halved crosswise
– 3 fresh thyme sprigs
– 2 bay leaves
– 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
– 1.5 lb boneless pork roast (or 2 lb. bone-in pork rib roast – should be 3 ribs)
1. To make brine: Combine 8 cups water and next 7 ingredients in large pot. Bring to boil, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve. Add 8 cups water. Chill brine uncovered until cold, about 2 hours. Place one 2-gallon resealable plastic bag inside another 2-gallon resealable plastic bag. Place pork in doubled bags. Pour brine over pork. Seal bags; place in roasting pan. Chill overnight.
2. To prep pork: Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove pork from brine; discard brine. Rinse pork, then drain and pat dry. Sprinkle pork generously with pepper. Heat heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork roast to skillet and cook until browned on all sides, turning frequently, about 6 minutes. Transfer pork to roasting pan.
3. To cook pork: Roast pork about 1 hour, until it has a slight crust on the outside and doesn’t drip pink juice when you cut into it. Remove pork from oven; tent with foil and let rest 15 minutes. Transfer pork to platter. Cut pork crosswise into slices. Transfer to plates; spoon pan juices over.
Braised Collard Greens
(Adapted from Bon Appétit)
Makes 3-4 servings.
– 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
– 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
– 1 onion, chopped
– 3 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 pounds collard greens, Swiss chard, or broccoli rabe (rapini), thick stems trimmed, leaves coarsely chopped
– 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
– 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1. Melt butter with vegetable oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.
2. Add greens and sauté until beginning to wilt. Stir in broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until greens are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Stir in vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
(Adapted from Bon Appétit)
Makes 3-4 servings
– 2 cups water
– 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
– 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
– 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
– good sprinkling of cayenne pepper (be careful, the heat hits you in the aftertaste, so test carefully)
1. Bring water, chicken broth, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in heavy large saucepan. Gradually whisk in polenta; whisk constantly until mixture is smooth and begins to thicken. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until tender and thickened but still creamy, stirring constantly, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in butter and Parmesan cheese, dust with cayenne pepper, tasting carefully. Season to taste with salt and pepper.