Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sweet Memories - Roast Pork and Veggies

My Grandma, Ida Bodeman, was the best cook I ever knew.  She was the kind of cook that would face an apparently empty refrigerator and cook a feast for a family of 6.  Half a loaf of bread, 1 tomato, half an onion, a few eggs and a half glass of milk turned into a Strata that fed the entire family for lunch. 

Her best meal was roast pork with root vegetables.  Moist, succulent meat that was perfectly seasoned. Served with roasted potatoes that were browned along the edges and soft carrots that were sweetly caramelized. The aroma would beckon me into the kitchen long before dinner time.  I'd hang around asking if there was anything I could do, hoping somehow to speed things along.  Over the years I've attempted to recreate that wonderful meal.  I never succeeded.  The meat was dry and tough.  The seasonings were all wrong.  Friends explained that you can't get the same kind of pork nowadays.  It's much leaner now.  I gave up on recreating that meal, and focused on creating a good roast pork.  I kept running into the same problems - dry, overcooked meat or pink, undercooked meat.

I learned about brining pork chops to keep them moist, so I decided to brine the roast.  It's just table salt and sugar dissolved in hot tap water, then I added crushed ice to chill the mixture before pouring it over the roast and stashing it in the fridge for an hour.
 Rinsing it after the brining process removes the excess salt.
Prepare the vegetables.  I got 3 lbs. red potatoes, a 1 lb. bag of carrots and a sleeve of celery free with the purchase of the roast. Now, that's cost effective! Thank you Jewel-Osco.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Then brown it in hot oil.  This will take about 5 minutes per side. When it's deeply browned, place it on top of the chopped veggies.  Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the oil used to brown the meat (you'll have more fat when you're done browning the meat because some fat will have rendered out of the meat), and pour that last tablespoon of oil over the veggies. Pop it into the oven at 375F.  Let it roast for 30 minutes and then turn the roast over.  Roast until it reaches 150F, about 30 minutes longer.
When it reaches 150F, take it out and put the roast on a cutting board.  Tent it with foil and let it sit 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 300F and put the pan with the veggies back in to continue roasting. Give them a stir.

After 20 minutes, the meat should have reached 160F and the veggies should be nicely roasted.  Time to eat!  Slice it thinly.

 Dish up some of those root vegetables.  The celery isn't for eating, it was more for aroma.

Turns out, the perfect seasoning blend for Grandma's roast was plain old salt and pepper and the perfume rising from roasting veggies.  This is it!  Moist, tender meat.  Browned potatoes and slightly caramelized carrots. Oh my goodness!  It's good.  It's very, very good!

Roast Pork Loin with Potatoes, Carrots and Celery

1 (3 lb.) pork loin roast, brined (see below for brining instructions)
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
3 ribs celery with tops, scrubbed and cut in 2" lengths
1 lb. carrots, scrubbed, peeled and cut in 1" chunks

Preheat oven to 375F.  Place vegetables in a 13 x 9" glass baking dish.  Set aside. 
Pat dry the roast with paper towels.  Season well with pepper.
Heat oil in a large skillet or dutch oven.  Add the roast and let it sear without moving it until very brown; about 5 minutes.  Turn and brown all sides.
Place roast on top of the vegetables in the baking dish.  When the oven is hot, place in oven and let roast, uncovered, 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, turn the roast over, insert a thermometer and return it to the oven.  Set the thermometer for 150F.
When the roast reaches 150F, remove it from the oven and place it on a cutting board.  Tent with foil.  Reduce the oven temperature to 300F and return the vegetables to the oven to continue to roast.
Allow the roast to rest for 20 minutes.  The temperature of the roast will continue to rise and the juices will redistribute throughout the meat, so that it's juicy when you serve it.
After 20 minutes, the temperature should be near 160F.  (It's safe to eat at 155F).
About brining
Some pork is labeled "enhanced".  This means the pork is already brined, so you can skip this step.  To brine a roast, you'll need a container large enough to hold the roast plus a half gallon of water. A large mixing bowl works well.
1/2 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups hot tap water
4 cups ice (I like using crushed ice, because my refrigerator has an ice crusher, but cubes will work fine.)
Combine hot water, salt and sugar; stir until dissolved.  Add crushed ice and stir until mixture is very cold.  Pour over raw roast in a large container.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, but no longer than 2 hours or the meat will become too salty.
Drain, refill the bowl with plain cold water and allow to sit while you prepare the vegetables.  Drain and pat dry.

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