It might be funny to announce that about eight or nine years ago I gave up on eating pork (I should note that this excluded bacon and ham). It was the chops, shoulder steaks and other boring, white, dry and tasteless stuff. It wasn't any political move, a statement or anything of that nature. I had simply had enough of the crap. It was never juicy, tasty or good when unadorned. My mother was a busy woman and had never put much effort into going beyond the basic stuff that her mother had done: salt, pepper and a bottled sauce (A1 my favorite, BBQ, etc). But in 2003 I gained my first education on what CAN be done with pork. I saw marinades, brines and aggressive seasoning bring an aspect to the other, more boring white meat, that I had not experienced. The following year I spent most of a year in Western France and got to experience even more ways of treating this fabulous meat to give me an even larger repertoire of tastiness.
One of those best techniques I picked up was t brining. And I now almost always brine any whole muscle or large pieces of pork that I use. Belly when roasting, shoulder when smoking, tenderloin when pan roasting, etc. So when this months Charcutepalooza challenge was announced I knew it was going to be tasty, and juicy. We had to brine and hot smoke a pork loin or shoulder. I knew the easiest thing would have been to do a BBQ style shoulder. But I do those fairly regularly on my own. So I decided to do the loin approach. But even that sounded a little simple for this challenge.
I started flipping through some books for inspiration and came across a roasted pork shoulder effort from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his River Cottage Meat Book. It looked great and I could smell it in the book. I read his technique and decided I could make this work for my plans with the loin I wanted to do. Interestingly Hugh credits this recipe to Nigella Lawson who says she owes it to the Cottage Cafe cookbook. Regardless, my inspiration evolved from Hugh's version.
I got ahold of my favorite hog farmer LouisJohn at Slagel Family Farms and ordered me up a 6-rib skin-on pork loin rack. He delivers to the city on Wednesdays so Tuesday night I made my brine and cooled it down for the following night. I included the usual salt and sugar, but added some bay leaves, toasted coriander, black peppercorns, pink peppercorns and some Templeton Rye Whiskey. I left the loin in the brine for three days. On the third day I took it out and patted it dry. Next I scored the skin and fat layer ½" or so deep in strips about ⅓" to ½" wide. I then made a paste of minced garlic, grated ginger, Banyuls vinegar, coriander, grains of paradise, black peppercorn, juniper and a touch of allspice. This was all pounded together in my mortar & pestle. Next we rubbed onto and into the top and sides of the rack, being sure to get some into those grooves of skin & fat.
Next I flashed the whole thing in a 400˚ oven for about 25 minutes to really get some crispiness started on the skin. After that it went into the smoker at 275˚ for around 3 hours, until the internal pork temperature hit 140˚. The smoke level was about medium the whole time using hickory chips. As you can see above, the smoking added just a bit more color to the already flashed (left) loin once it came out (right). We had to wait a bit for our dinner guests to arrive so it rested a good half-hour. When they arrived I again flashed it in the 400˚ oven for another 20 minutes to crisp up the skin before we carved it.
I then simply ran my knife through the fat layer along the top of the loin to remove what I ended up calling the "pork skin fries" seen on the left above. This left enough skin on the actual loin to enjoy with the chops but still plenty on the crunchy skin strips as well!
I carved this beauty into 4 nice sized chops and we had one huge double chop remaining. Even after the long rest there was so much juice left in the bad-boys that you can see the huge puddle forming just behind the cutting board. And you'll easily notice too that these are no dry chops.
We roasted some new potatoes with some of the fat that rendered out during the original flash at the beginning of this process and finished them with salt, pepper and some lemon zest. Rebecca made a great simple mixed greens salad with Banyuls vinaigrette. We passed around the bowl of pork skin fries at the table. It was funny to hear all the crunching randomly as the person not involved in the current conversation was surely chomping down on one of these!
The salt seasoning from the brine was all these guys needed as far as saltiness. The paste we rubbed on added some more spice and flavor to the overall piece, and especially so for the fries. Because of this nothing else was needed, like a sauce. The smoke was perfect. It was neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. It made me happy to eat and just as much so to hear a comment specific to the fact it was just right. Sometimes you never know how much is enough until it's too late. I ate the left over chop a couple days later and it still packed all the juiciness that it had the first day. If only mom had known these types of tricks when she was still cooking for me!