Monday, March 10, 2008

Pork Loin with Warm Roasted Red Pepper Relish: Beyond Chicken

When it comes to cheap, healthy meat, there’s no easier fallback than good ol’ chicken breast. It’s tasty, accessible, and universally beloved - the U2 of the culinary world. Alas, while I dig the chix, I also have a great tendency to rely on it too much. There are weeks where chicken appears on our menu so often, I wonder if it’s following me around and sneaking into our fridge, like a poultry private eye on some kind of bizarre suicide mission.

Two weeks ago, in an effort to free ourselves (a.k.a. The Boyfriend and I) from the oppressive shackles of constant breast-based dinners, I bought four pounds of $1.99/lb center cut pork loin and chopped it into four 1-lb mini-roasts. “What the heck,” I figured, “This can’t be TOO hard.”


Pork, it turns out, is incredibly easy to drain of any and all moisture. In fact, the FDA asks us to cook the meat to a bacteria-slaying internal temperature of 160°F, which has the unfortunate side effect of mummification. At that point, you may as well snack on a sock, since it’s just as flavorful.

Happily, after a little research and a few trial-and-error sessions in the kitchen, I think I hit on a formula that nearly ensures a moist roast. (P.S. Try saying “moist roast” ten times fast. It’s hard.) Instead of roasting the meat longer at 325°F or 350°F, you brown it on a stovetop first, then shove it in a 450°F oven briefly, until its inner temperature hits 145°F-150°F. Then, you let it sit on an aluminum foil-tented pan for 15 minutes. During this time, the pork's temperature should rise 10 degrees and the juices get a chance to redistribute. The whole shebang locks in the moisture, gives the meat a nice color, and comes in handy when there’s no time to brine.

I used this method last night, and paired it with a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Warm Roasted Red Pepper Relish. Which? Yum. It’s a little pricier than most CHG dishes, but it’s a tad classier, too. Like Katharine Hepburn, but edible.

Ooo - but, before we get to the dish, a quick reiteration/warning about pork's internal temperature: opinion varies widely on the boundaries of a safe one. I've read that 145°F - 150°F is acceptable, since the roast's temperature will rise as it sits, but I CAN NOT guarantee this. If you're unsure or concerned about Trichinella, please cook the pork longer. Food-borne diseases are bad.

Pork Loin with Warm Roasted Red Pepper Relish
Serves 2
Adapted from and Cook's Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipes.

1 1-lb pork loin center, trimmed of all visible fat and patted dry
½ Tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper

½ shallot, minced
salt and pepper
½ garlic clove, minced
6-oz (1/2 jar) roasted red peppers, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped fine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into 2 pieces and chilled
½ tablespoon freshly minced basil

1) Preheat oven to 450°F.

2) In a medium pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork generously with salt and pepper. Place pork in pan and brown on every side. (This should take about 6 minutes or so.) When finished, transfer pork to a roasting pan and roast about 20 minutes, or until pork temperature is between 145°F and 150°F. When finished, remove from oven, tent pork with aluminum foil and let sit for 10-15 minutes.

3) While pork is in oven, add shallot and 1/8 teaspoon salt to the oil left in pan. Cook over medium-high heat until shallot is soft, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring a few times.

4) Add peppers and vinegar to pan and cook until warm, about 2 minutes, scraping up browned bits as you go along.

5) Drop heat to low. Stir in butter chunks one at a time. Remove from heat. Add basil and any pork juices. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over sliced pork.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
330 calories, 17.2 g fat, $1.81
(Note: I think my fat calc is a bit high here, since a lot of the fat is trimmed.)

1 1-lb pork loin center (about 10-12 oz after trim): 440 calories, 16.5 g fat, $1.99
½ Tablespoon vegetable oil: 66 calories, 7.5 g fat, $0.03
salt and pepper: negligible fat and calories, $0.05
½ shallot, minced: 14 calories, 0 g fat, $0.26
½ garlic clove, minced: 2 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
6-oz (1/2 jar) roasted red peppers: 36 calories, 0 g fat, $0.99
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $0.08
1 tablespoon butter: 102 calories, 11.5 g fat, $0.10
½ tablespoon freshly minced basil: negligible fat and calories, $0.11
TOTAL: 660 calories, 35.5 g fat, $3.63
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 330 calories, 17.2 g fat, $1.81

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Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I made a pork roast last night, using local, pastured heirloom pork and an apple sauce. The roast had beautiful marbling, and even though I overcooked it a bit in my inexperience (thank you for the detailed temp. suggestions), it was way, way tastier than the overcooked grocery store pork I grew up eating. The extra fat in the heirloom pork made all the difference, I think. And honestly, I'd rather have a less frequent, really tasty piece of pork than a factory-farmed, so-so one.

Sarah said...

I regularly do pork loin in the crockpot and find it works well (stays moist and yummy). Should I assume that gets to a good temperature, or should I start worrying and measuring?

English Major said...

Why do you default to chicken breasts & not to chicken thighs? Thighs are cheaper, tastier, and have only marginally more fat (especially when trimmed), and I find that they self-portion way better than breasts.

Kris said...

English major, while thighs are most definitely tastier, I find I default to breasts for two reasons. One is the calorie/fat aspect. Even trimmed, thighs contain about twice the calories and many times the fat of breasts. The second reason is cost. While thighs can sometimes be priced lower than chicken breasts, it's always the bone-in version. You get much less meat for the money. Boneless, skinless thighs are generally way more expensive than boneless, skinless breasts in my 'hood.

Kris said...

Sally - I've never tried heirloom pork. Sounds tasty.

Sarah - I think you should be fine with the slow-cooked pork, especially if you got the recipe from a reputable source. I've done crockpot pulled pork before without a problem. If you're extra-concerned, the FDA might have more info.

English Major said...

Fitday lists the calories of a cup of diced chicken breast as 202, with 4g fat (1g saturated), and the calories of a cup of diced chicken thigh at 279, with 15g fat (4g saturated). It's not that big a difference (to me, anyway--if I had high cholesterol or a genetic predisposition towards heart disease, I might be inclined to think differently). I also find thighs more filling (possibly because they have more fat, which boosts satiety), so I think the portion can be a bit smaller.

But if breasts are cheaper anyway, the case is kind of moot. (I always find boneless skinless thighs cheaper than boneless skinless breasts by pound, though--I'm in East Harlem.) Keep on doing what you're doing, and thanks for all the cheap, healthy goodness!

Maggie said...

I love pork in the crockpot with green chilis and a few chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. It tastes best made ahead and stored covered in the liquid.I really like crockpot pulled pork also.

Joel said...

As always, love your blog.


Trichinella spirals die at 137. Even cooking to 150 is doing your meat a disservice! I like my piggies pink in the middle.