Fruit, port add royal touch
This is an adapted recipe from Epicurious. com’s first cookbook, “The Epicurious Cookbook,” which came out this year and contains more than 250 of the best recipes from the popular cooking website. The Epicurious recipe used a bone-in pork loin, also called a crown roast. They stuffed the meat with a mixture of apricots, prunes and apples and roasted it with a layer of bacon on top.
To cut down on the cost, number of servings and cooking time, I adapted the recipe for a smaller boneless pork loin, which I asked the butcher at my grocery store to butterfly. With both cuts of meat, you simmer the fruit and port for the stuffing, and if you have any extra or if you can’t make a stovetop pan sauce with your roasting pan (as outlined in the recipe), you can add a little more port and continue to cook until you have a nice chutney-esque sauce to serve alongside the meat.
Feel free to use pears or plums instead of apples and dried cherries; figs, cranberries, dates or raisins instead of dried apricots and prunes; and if you don’t have port handy, a sweet red wine with a hint of extra sugar thrown in is a fine substitute.
The Epicurious method for stuffing meat is this: Make a pocket in the center of the roast by making a horizontal 1 1/2inch-wide cut into one end of roast with a long thin knife, repeating from opposite end so pocket runs all the way through. Then make a vertical cut through center (forming a cross) to widen pocket. Push about 1 cup stuffing into pocket using a longhandled wooden spoon (you may need to stuff from both sides if roast is long).
If you stuff a butterflied piece of meat, you can tie it up with kitchen twine, which you (or your guests) have to remove before eating. (You also end up with more stuffing inside the meat using this technique.) Feel free to use whichever method seems a best fit for your skills, tools and desired outcome.
A small roast will take as little as 25 minutes to cook, so have your meat thermometer handy. (The Department of Agriculture lowered the safe cooking temperature for pork to 145 degrees from 160 last year. Take into consideration that the temperature will continue to rise after you’ve removed the meat from the oven.)
You can stuff the roast and wrap in bacon a day ahead of time, which will allow the meat to absorb more of the flavors.
An hour before you plan to cook the meat, remove the loin from the fridge and rest, covered, on the counter.
In a small saucepan with the lid on, simmer apricots, prunes (or other dried fruit) and port for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, still covered, for 10 minutes.
Cook onion and shallot in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add apple, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until apple is just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in apricot mixture and cool.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub salt and pepper on the outside of the butterflied pork loin and then open the meat on a cutting board. Spread the cooled mixture in the middle. Close the loin and, using kitchen twine, tie the roast in several places to keep the filling in place. (I found that turning the stuffed loin on its side, with the crease on a cutting board and the open end on the top, allowed me to securely tie the meat without the stuffing falling out. Place strips of bacon on top of the loin.
Put the stuffed and bacon-wrapped meat on a rack in a heavy roasting pan and roast for 15 minutes. Then reduce temperature to 325 degrees and continue roasting for another 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the loin, until a thermometer registers 140 degrees. Transfer roast to a cutting board, reserving pan juices, and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 15 to 20 minutes.
Skim fat from pan drippings and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons fat. Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners and add port to drippings, then deglaze pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. (If your roasting pan is not suited for use on the stove-top, you’ll have to skip this sauce-making method.) Strain pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.
Cook shallot in reserved fat in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in pan juices, 1 1/4 cups water and any reserved fruit stuffing and bring to a simmer. Whisk together flour and 1/4 cup water until smooth, then whisk into sauce with any juices from cutting board.
Simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Carve roast, removing kitchen twine, if using, then serve with sauce. Serves 4 to 6.