I brined a pork loin, my first foray into porcine preservation. I chose a loin, not to be confused with the leaner tenderloin so often in attendance at parties. My hefty hog weighed in around 24 ounces (one and a half pounds) with a half-inch layer of fat at the top. To make the brine, I combined equal parts table salt and sugar over a low heat to dissolve, along with some standard aromatics (fresh rosemary and thyme, a quartered lemon, a few allspice berries, a few whole cloves, ten or so black peppercorns, a handful of whole mustard seeds, a half cup unsweetened applesauce). When the brine had reached room temperature, I submerged the pork in the pot, weighing it down with a plate. I left it in the refrigerator, turning it every six to eight hours, for two days.
Pork turns gray when it is brining. This is not something to be concerned about; basically, it means that the salt has permeated the meat. When I was ready to cook the pork, I removed it from the brine, patted it dry (no, I did not rinse it off first) and seared it in a frying pan. I started fat side down to render some of the fat into cooking oil. Having browned all sides, I put the loin in a roasting rack and large roasting pan, surrounded by fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage. I glazed the pork with a mixture of molasses, whole grain mustard, and dijon mustard, every 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. I went for a high heat, though there's tons of debate on this subject. Four-hundred degrees for what turned out to be about forty minutes (I programed my digital meat thermometer to 150 degrees).
With the rendered fat still in the frying pan, I tossed in two chopped shallots and cooked them until they were soft. Next, I added one cup of whiskey and deglazed the now-browned pan. I let the whiskey reduce for about seven or eight minutes and then added two and a half cups of chicken stock, one quarter cup of agave nectar, salt, and pepper. I let this reduce for about ten minutes before adding a tablespoon of butter at the end.
Sides included sweet and sour braised cabbage, fennel and Granny Smith apples, a slow-cooked dish that involved little more than a simmer of balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, whole grain mustard, red cabbage, fennel, julienned apples, garlic, onion, chicken stock, fresh sage, and caraway seeds. I made mashed potatoes with skim milk and butter, topping them with nutmeg, a personal favorite. They were admittedly watery. I would use two percent or higher in the future. To accompany the pork, I made an apple, onion, and celery butter that tasted delicious but never did quite come together in pats (for some reason, the materials separated; I'm still not sure why).
The pork was very salty, but that was fine. The caramelized glaze tempered any salt leftover from the brine. It was also fairly moist, though not at all pink. I'm wondering if I should have taken it out of the oven at 145 degrees and let it carry over to 150. I'm not sure about that. The meat changes consistency because of the brine, so it isn't that luscious pink and tender meat you think of when you think butcher counter. But what you get in flavor and moisture is the trade off. All in all, things turned out pretty good, including the whiskey sauce that brightened up otherwise boring potatoes.
For dessert, my friend brought a gluten-free batter for cookie baking. Oatmeal peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies did not taste at all gluten-free. She also skipped the refined white sugar. And, unlike my whole-wheat monstrosities, they did not suck.
Best of all, I now have light again in my bedroom and living room. You gotta have friends.