Saturday, September 27, 2008

Can I Cook Or What?

CornucopiaIronic that it takes a tropical storm to usher in Autumn, but here we are: rainy, damp, foggy, cold. Perfect weather for comfort food.
Should my truly misanthropic behavior ever become a criminal offense, I request as my last meal pork tenderloin. There is no meat, fish or foul as enticing to me as a perfectly roasted piece of pork. Keep your prime rib, coq au vin, lobster Thermidor; me and my house shall have the other white meat.
I bought a beautiful piece of pork from my butcher just a day earlier and now had an excuse to roast it. I'll usually brine a tenderloin overnight with bay leaves, peppercorns, bourbon, water and lots of salt, but was impatient to get my roast in the oven, so decided on a glazed crust instead. You can find dozens of recipes for glazes and rubs in cook books and on the Internet. But one of my goals as a food blogger is to nudge my readers toward exercising their own artistic muscle by experimenting and creating a cooking style all their own.

Pork takes to almost any herb or spice. The challenge is to find combinations that appeal to your tastes and wed compatibly. Here's a short list of ingredients that compliment a roast tenderloin:
  • Fresh or dried fruit and preserves
  • Mustards
  • Sugars
  • Curry
  • Cinnamon
  • All spice
  • Garlic
  • Rosemary

I checked the cupboards for glaze fixings and chose the  "less is more" path. I dug out olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, red pepper flake and fresh garlic. Honey and chilies go together in a most Yin & Yang sort of way. Think of jalapeño jellies and you'll get the idea. The mustard and garlic add acidic complexity and the oil is my binder and meat tenderizer.

This is an easy glaze, a paste really, that you slather on to the pork roast and then blast in a hot oven for a few minutes to form a crust.

1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely crushed
½ tsp red pepper flake
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl to form a thick paste. You can adjust the viscosity with more or less oil. With your tenderloin in a shallow baking dish, fat side up, spread the honey mustard glaze all over the meat. Place in a 450º pre-heated oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. Once the timer sounds, reduce the heat to 250º and continue to slow roast the tenderloin an additional 20-25 minutes per pound. The initial blast of heat seals the crust and helps to keep moisture in the meat as it continues to cook.

Spread glaze onto pork tenderloin
After reducing the temperature on the pork, it was time to think about a side dish. I guess I could have gone the lazy route and just wrapped shredded pork in a tortilla, splashed some hot sauce on it and called it a game, but this was gonna be my first comfort meal of the season, so shortcuts - while tempting - were out of the question. But that left the issue of what to prepare. I had some beautiful green and yellow squash from the farmers market. Kinda banal though. Egg noodles? Rice? Boring! A starch, though, seemed to offer the most possibilities. As my eyes skimmed over dried cranberries, it came to me. Couscous with red onion, cranberries and slivered almonds.
Tyler Florence had done a similar couscous as a side dish on one of his shows. I tried it a few days later, and afterwards gave Tyler a lot more credit for his acting skills. His recipe fell flat, but he sure looked like he was enjoying it on that particular episode. I figured I could do better. I liked the idea of a hot onion and a sweet component. I substituted dried cranberries for whatever it was Tyler had used, knowing they could make red onions sing in a dish. The toasted almonds added a crunchy quality, and while I was at it, how 'bout some garlic, just because I could.

So, while the pork was roasting, I toasted about ¼ cup raw, slivered almonds in a dry pan, gave a small red onion a very rough chop, and added another ¼ cup of dried cranberries to my trusty food processor. Once the almonds were toasted they went into the food processor along with the onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. I gave the dry compote a few short pulses. I didn't want a puree, but something with some texture that would add interest to plain couscous. After pulsing, I transferred the mixture to a skillet with 2 Tbs of olive oil and sautéed over low heat.
Cranberry and onion compote
Once my tenderloin registered an internal temperature of 150º (about 50 minutes into the roasting), I removed it from the oven and set it, tented with aluminum foil, on a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes. As it rest, I brought 1 cup vegetable stock, ½ tsp salt and 2 Tbs of butter to boil in a large sauce pan. Once the liquid was boiling, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in 1 cup couscous and my cranberry onion mixture, covered the pan and let the ingredients set for 5 minutes.
The results speak for themselves. The pork was perfectly done. Juicy and just barely pink inside with a sweet, spicy caramelized crust. The couscous was the ideal foil with the tangy cranberry heightening the sweet heat of the onion. An '06 Storrs Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir sent me over the edge. A distinctive over-ripe plumy nose with hints of bicycle inner tube (I don't know why I always pick that up with good Pinots!). One is reminded of the beach tar that used to bubble up along the sands of Huntington. If tar were to percolate beneath a picnic blanket where peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiches were lying in the sun, that would be the nose of this wine. Supple, velvety mouth-feel, and, again, ripe plums but with what tasted like precisely 2 drops of walnut oil added just before serving. There was just enough alcohol for that classic subtle finish that one expects from a good Pinot.
Roasted pork tenderloinCranberry & Red onion couscous
I don't know about you, but cooking is my religion and the kitchen my sanctuary. The desire to nurture is satisfied in feeding people. I experience an almost catholic ritualism in it. Every once in a great while, I'll prepare something so supremely satisfying that it brings me one step closer to the divine. On this gray soggy night, I took another stride.
Bon appetit - Blog O. Food

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