I almost never cook pork these days without brining it first. The difference in the finished texture and even the flavor is dramatic. Brined pork is fork tender and juicy, no matter how lean the cut, and evenly seasoned all the way through.
To brine pork (or chicken), you simply cover the pork with 1 tablespoon fine sea salt and 1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 1 quart of ice cold water and let it macerate for at least 6 hours in the coldest part of the refrigerator. I typically frig it for much longer, ocassionally up to 3 days, with no ill effect. I always add spices and herbs to the brine as well, which are then magically transported into the meat at the perfect subtle level. You can experiment with whole pepper, rosemary, bay leaf, allspice berries, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, juniper berries, orange peel, or garlic.
With a large bunch of rhubarb from Portland Farmers Market and a couple of pork tenderloins from City Market on hand, I was about to pour a standard salt-sugar-water brine over the pork when Maui Jim said, “Wait, we have apple cider. Why not brine the pork in that?” Eureka! And this from a guy who can barely make his way around the kitchen, except at breakfast, when he magically seems to know exactly what he is doing.
I am now in love with this apple cider brine. You can actually taste the apple flavor in the meat. With just a hint of cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, this pork tenderloin is incredibly delicious.
We had it for dinner tonight with the following irresistable rhubarb sauce, served over a bed of lightly braised (with a little chicken stock, olive oil and garlic) Brussels sprouts raab.
MauiJim is very proud of himself.
Apple Cider-Brined Tenderloin of Pork with Rhubarb Deglazing Sauce
The sweet flavor of pork has a natural affinity with acidic fruit flavors, as in this rhubarb-cider sauce, and also with spices, such as allspice and cloves, which are used here in an apple cider brine.
The key to this dish is in not overcooking the pork; it should be nicely rosy in the center, very juicy and tender. And yes, it is quite safe to eat it this way and so much preferable to the dried-out, stringy stuff we are so often served in the name of pork.
Apple Cider Brine
2 cups apple cider
1 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoons sugar
½ cinnamon stick, broken
1 teaspoon whole allspice
½ teaspoon whole cloves
2 cups trimmed, diced rhubarb
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup low-salt chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cold pressed olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup low-salt chicken stock
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
sugar, to taste
- Trim all fat from the tenderloins and reserve.
- To brine the pork, in a mixing bowl, combine the brine ingredients, and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve.
- Place the tenderloins in a glass baking dish and pour the brine over them.
- Seal tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. Rotate the tenderloins once or twice while brining.
- To make the sauce, in a small saucepan, combine the rhubarb and brown sugar, and let sit for 1 hour.
- Add 1 cup chicken stock and apple cider. Cook until rhubarb is actually disintegrating. Into a large measuring glass measuring cup, strain the sauce, pushing against the solids to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Reserve.
- Remove tenderloins from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and olive oil. Lay the tenderloins in the pan and brown deeply on all sides. (It’s fine to cut the tenderloins if they are too long for the pan.) This process usually requires about 8-10 minutes. Do this quickly so that the pork doesn’t cook all the way through.
- Drain the fat from the saute pan, and add the vinegar and ½ cup stock to the pan to deglaze.
- Cover the pan and braise slowly (just a bubble on the surface) until the internal temperature of the pork reads 145 degrees, about 12-18 minutes. (Pork is judged safe to eat at 137 degrees, but it is advisable to cook it somewhat beyond this point to be sure.)
- When the pork is done, remove from the pan and keep warm for a few minutes.
- Raise the heat and add the rhubarb sauce.
- Whisk and cook until thickened; the sauce should just coat a wooden spoon. (If desired, you can make a slurry with a teaspoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon of stock and use it to thicken the sauce slightly.)
- Taste and then carefully season the sauce with salt, pepper, and additional sugar if needed.
- Strain sauce into a small saucepan. Keep warm.
- Cut the tenderloin into 3/4-inch medallions, arrange on one side of four individual warmed serving plates and pour the sauce under and around.
- If desired, serve with a quick braise of rapini or baby vegetables, such as turnips, parsnips, and carrots.
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