Whether it’s a very plain but perfectly cooked piece of steak or a seasoned and sauced piece of barbecued chicken, sometimes there’s nothing better than a big hunk of juicy meat. Animal rights activists would cringe if they read this, but I enjoy life as a carnivore.
Several methods exist to insure the meat you’re cooking and eating will be moist and flavorful, but my all-time favorite is brining. This scientific process involves soaking the meat in a salt and liquid mixture for an extended period of time and allowing science to play a part in your meal. The soaking salts travel into the meat and trap moisture inside the meat, which remains there throughout the cooking process so your dish is tender and juicy. This recipe utilizes the brining method to produce a succulent, sweet and savory pork tenderloin.
8 cups water
1/3 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh sage
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 four pound boneless pork loin roast, trimmed
For roasting pork:
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
3 tablespoons molasses
16 bacon slices (about 1 lb)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon water
Combine all brining ingredients except pork loin in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan and heat over high heat, stirring, until salt is dissolved. Pour brine into a deep 4- to 5-quart pot; cool to room temperature, uncovered. Add pork to brine, making sure it is completely covered by brine, and marinate, covered and chilled, 8 to 24 hours.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pat pork dry, discard brine, then transfer to a roasting pan. Stir together garlic, sage, and 1 tablespoon molasses in a small bowl and rub all over pork. Lay bacon slices crosswise over loin, overlapping slightly, and tuck ends of bacon underneath loin. Roast pork until thermometer registers 140 degrees Fahrenheit, about 1 ¼ hours. Stir together 1 tablespoon molasses and vinegar until combined. Brush vinegar mixture over bacon slices and continue to roast pork until thermometer registers 150 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes. Transfer roast to a cutting board with a lip, reserving juices in pan, and let roast stand, uncovered, while making sauce. Skim fat from pan juices and discard, then transfer jus to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir together cornstarch and water and whisk into jus. Simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in remaining tablespoon molasses. Serve pork with sauce.
Though the pork takes no longer than 2 hours to make, from rubbing the sage concoction onto the loin to actually slicing it to serve, the brining period before hand is the most important part of the recipe. Not only does the salt work its way into the meat fibers, it acts as a vehicle to transfer the deep, sweet flavors of the molasses into the meat. Just as the salt traps moisture in the pork, it also locks in the other flavors from the brine. The fresh sage and garlic adhere to the outside of the meat aided by the sticky molasses, and they become trapped under a blanket of bacon, which turns into a crispy, caramelized coating.
Combining flavors that are sweet, herby and smokey and adding them to the salty pork results in a sophisticated dish. Simply taking a plain pork tenderloin and bathing it in a basic salt solution beforehand magically makes the dish juicy and amplifies the other ingredients. Well, maybe it’s less about magic, more about science.