Ask Eric: Marinades, brines make juicy, tender pork roasts

Eric AkisThis is part two of my answer to a reader’s question on roasting lean pork loin and sirloin roasts without them ending up dry and tough.

In last week’s column, my focus was on preparing a roast that you only seasoned on the exterior. If you missed that story, go to timescolonist.com and search Ask Eric:
Why pork is a dry topic.

This week, I’ll discuss two other methods that can help make a lean pork roast become juicier and tender when cooked.

One of them is to marinate the meat first, a technique that tenderizes and adds flavour.

Ingredients that can help tenderize meat are those with some acidity, such as vinegar, wine, citrus juice and soy sauce, and those with natural enzymes, such as onion or ginger.

The ingredients above will, of course, also add flavour, and so will other ingredients you might add to a marinade, such as spices and herbs.

In today’s recipe for curry citrus marinated pork roast, I used some of the tenderizers and flavourings above, but also mixed in some aromatic and flavourful curry paste, which is sold at most supermarkets.

Another way to help make a lean pork roast turn out juicer and more tender is to brine it before cooking.

Brine, in its most basic form, is a solution of salt dissolved in water. Other ingredients, such as spices, herbs, sweeteners and flavoured liquids, are also frequently added to brine.

Because the brine has a higher concentration of water and salt than the pork does, it will permeate the meat, adding flavour and moisture, and that extra liquid will help keep the meat moist during cooking.

My brine for the pork was flavoured with beer, thyme and spices. Near the end of cooking, the pork roast was glazed with barbecue sauce. Thinly sliced, the meat makes lovely bunwiches you can enjoy while watching the game.

I should note the downside to brining is that it can impart a noticeable salty taste. It is also a technique that should be avoided if you’re on a salt-restricted diet.
For both of today’s recipes, use an instant-read thermometer to gauge the doneness of the pork.

Curry Citrus Marinated Pork Loin Roast

Before cooking, the lean pork loin roast in this recipe is tastily soaked in an Asian-style marinade. Serve the pork with steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables and homemade or store-bought mango chutney.

Preparation: 10 minutes

Marinating time: eight hours

Cooking time: 45 to 55 minutes

Makes: four servings  

2 Tbsp mild, medium or hot curry paste (see Note)
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
2 Tbsp orange juice
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 3/4 lb. (about 800 gram) boneless pork loin roast

• salt to taste

2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint (optional)

Combine the first nine ingredients in a sided dish just large enough to hold the pork. Add the pork and turn to coat. Cover, refrigerate and marinate the pork for eight hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a small roasting pan with parchment paper. Set in the pork, fatty-side-up, and spoon over the curry paste mixture left in the bowl.

Roast the pork for 50 to 60 minutes, basting with pan juices occasionally, or until the centre of the roast reaches 150 F to 155 F on an instant-read meat thermometer.

Transfer the roast to a plate, sprinkle with mint, if using, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice the meat and serve with any juices remaining in the pan.

Note: Mild, medium and hot curry pastes are sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets. I used Patak’s brand.

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Beer-Brined Pork Loin Roast

I used lager beer to flavour the brined pork, but you could try another type, such as a dark ale. The pork, once cooked and sliced, is great to pile into hamburgers buns with other items, such as crisp lettuce, onion, pickles, mustard and whatever else you think would work with the meat. Serve some coleslaw or potato salad alongside and enjoy.

Preparation: 10 minutes   

Brining time: eight hours   

Cooking time: 50 to 60 minutes

Makes: flour servings

2 cups very hot water
3 Tbsp coarse (pickling) salt (see Note)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 cups lager beer
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp crush chili flakes
6 fresh thyme sprigs (each about 5 inches long)
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 3/4 lb (about 800 gram) boneless pork loin roast
1/4 cup barbecue sauce, or taste

Place the water, salt and sugar into a deep, non-reactive (non-aluminum) bowl. Whisk until the salt and sugar dissolve. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except pork and barbecue sauce. Set and submerge the pork roast in the brine. Cover, refrigerate and brine the pork eight hours, turning occasionally.  

Line a small roasting pan with parchment paper. Remove the pork from the brine and set, fatty-side-up, in the pan. Discard the brine.

Roast the pork for 30 minutes, and then brush with the barbecue sauce. Roast 20 to 30 minutes more, or until the centre of the roast reaches 150 F to 155 F on an instant-read meat thermometer. Transfer the roast to a plate, tent with foil, let rest for 10 minutes, and then slice and serve.

Note: Coarse salt is sold at most supermarkets, alongside the other types offered.

Eric Akis is the author of The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook (Appetite by Random House). His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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