Sunday, March 16, 2008

March 16: Herb-Crusted Pork Roast

I am not a huge fan of ham. For one thing, as a child, Easter always seemed to be the time of year that I would find myself with a stomach virus, so hard-boiled eggs and ham always make me think of terrible Easter nights spent hugging the toilet. Then, when I was pregnant and had round-the-clock morning sickness for four months, only to be replaced swiftly by a debilitating case of gastroenteritis which landed me in the hospital for several days and had me not feeling 100 percent for several weeks afterwards. In this lasting period of varying degrees of queasiness, I found that ham, to me, looked like what I described to my husband as people meat--cooked and sliced human being of some sort. I can manage a ham sandwich, sort of, as long as there's some pickles and cheese and mustard, something to make me not think too hard about what I'm actually eating.

So, of course, as far as holidays go, Easter's not my favorite. Ham is the traditional Easter dinner around my house, and my grandmother was a big believer in a glazed ham with pineapple rounds, cloves, and marashino cherries. Thinking about what to make for my own family, I think I'd like to give them something a little fresher, less sugary, with fewer artificial colors involved.

I love a center-cut pork loin roast how easy it is to make--it's compact, uniformly-sized, and easy to slice. It's also a little bland. Usually I make some kind of a pan sauce or stuffing, but this year, I'm going to do an herb crust, courtesy of America's Test Kitchen.

Herb-Crusted Pork Loin

1 boneless center-cut pork loin roast (2 1/2-3 lbs.)
1/4 cup sugar
1 slice high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
1 ounce parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 shallot, minced
4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley or basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 garlic clove, minced

With a sharp knife, score the fat cap on the pork, making a 1/4 inch crosshatch pattern, then cut a pocket in the side of the roast, stopping 1/2 inch short of each end. Pull open the roast to cut the pocket deeper. Dissolve 1/2 cup salt and the sugar in 2 quarts water in a large container, submerge roast, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Rinse the roast with cold water and dry with paper towels.

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325. Pulse the bread in a food processor until goarsely ground, about sixteen 1-second pulses. Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl (do not wash the food processor) and add 2 tablespoons of parmesan, the shallot, 1 tablespoon of oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Using a fork, toss the mixture until the crumbs are evenly coated with oil.

Add the parsley, thyme, rosemary, garlic, remaining parmesan, 3 tablespoons oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to the now-empty food processor and process until smooth, about 12 1-second pulses. Transfer the herb paste to a small bowl.

Spread 1/4 cup inside the herb paste inside the pocket in the roast and tie at 3 intervals along the length of the roast with kitchen twine. Season the roast with salt and pepper.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the roast fat-side down and brown on all sides, 8-10 minutes, lowering the heat if the fat starts to smoke. Transfer the roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.

Using scissors, snip and remove the twine from the roast, discard twine. Spread the remaining herb paste over the roast; top with the bread crumb mixture. Transfer the baking sheet with the roast to the oven and cook until the thickest part of the roast registers 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 50-75 minutes. Remove the roast from the oven and let rest 10 minutes.

Transfer to a carving board, taking care not to squeeze the juices out of the pocket in the roast. Cut into 1/2 inch slices and serve immediately.

No comments: