Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stuffed Pork Loin

The day before Christmas was one of much culinary debate (in my head) about what to eat. Turkey again? Prime rib (the official turkey replacement on this holiday) or perhaps even just a festive pizza? I knew for a fact that I did not house a full-fledged turkey in my freezer and could swear that no prime rib was hiding among the many UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects), so something else had to take its place. And something did: a beautiful, almost forgotten and pushed to the back frozen pork loin. A porker, you may well say, at almost two pounds. That should do the trick!

Pork on Christmas day almost seems blasphemous, but heck. See if you can get a nice pork loin with some fat on the top: it'll make the roast more moist when you prepare it. Pork nowadays ranks lower in fat than chicken and is leaner than we've been used to so adjust your cooking times accordingly. Internal temperature for pork is, according to the USDA's safety chart, safe to eat at 160F. Go much higher than that and you risk a dry brick for dinner: at 350F in the oven and somewhere between 2 and 5 pounds, you can calculate up to 25 minutes per pound.

Stuffed Pork Loin

1 pork loin, 2 lbs.
1 package of Boursin*
2 cups of fresh spinach leaves, no stems
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
Kitchen twine**

6 red potatoes, small
1 red onion, medium size
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 bay leaves

Roll cut*** the pork loin, cover with plastic wrap and pound flat to about an inch of thickness. Spread the soft cheese over the inside of the pork, leaving about an inch of margin on all sides. Cover the cheese with the spinach leaves and roll up the pork, tucking in the ends. Tie the loin with kitchen twine. (Don't worry about how it looks since you'll cut the pork into slices before serving it. For now the most important thing is that the meat stays together and the cheese doesn't have a chance to seep out once it's melted.) Sprinkle salt, pepper and thyme on the cutting board and roll the stuffed pork loin in it so that it is evenly seasoned.

Brush the potatoes under streaming water, pat dry and cut in fours. Slice the red onion in six to 8 pieces.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat butter and olive oil in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven and when hot, sear the pork loin on all four sides. Arrange the potato chunks around it, divide the onion on top and add the garlic in between. Place the bay leaves on top of the vegetables and place all this in the oven, middle rack.

Roast for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 160F. Remove the pork from the pan and cover with aluminum foil on a cutting board for about ten minutes. Then cut the string, slice the pork and serve with the potatoes. Merry Christmas!

* Boursin is a soft creamy cheese with garlic and herbs. You may find something similar at your grocery store or if you want to make it yourself, blend four ounces of whipped butter with one package of cream cheese (softened), two minced cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper, large pinch of your three favorite herbs: thyme, oregano, marjoram, chives, parsley, dill....they can be either dried or fresh, whatever is available to you. Taste and adjust, then blend until smooth and refrigerate overnight, so that the flavors can blend. The leftovers are great on toasted bread or crackers, or whipped into eggs for a wonderful omelet.

** If you don't have kitchen twine, plain old cotton crochet thread or cotton string will work just fine. Avoid waxed twine, or sisal/hemp twine because they will leave fibers in your food. Dental floss is not recommended either! If you have nothing at all that can substitute the twine, hold the pork loin together with toothpicks but the pork loin will loose some of its juices. Compensate by placing a tablespoon of butter on top of the roast when it goes in the oven.

*** Roll cutting allows you to cut the pork loin so that you can "roll" it out into a flat sheet of meat, cover it with stuffing and then "roll" it back up into a stuffed pork loin. It takes a bit of practice, but check here to see how it can be done:

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