When Indian summer is past and it finally feels like autumn is here, one of my favorite main-course combinations to cook is roasted pork with apples.
Pork is such a wonderful meat. It's full of hearty flavor and texture, yet also mild and sweet. Apples, with their tangy-sweet flavor and crisp, juicy texture, pay the perfect complement to pork, resulting in dishes that are satisfying and down-to-earth.
Pork's prices are down-to-earth, too. And that's even true when, as I prefer, you seek out organically raised meat. Look for a good-quality butcher who can provide such a product. You can take satisfaction not only in knowing that the meat has been raised to a higher, more humane and sustainable standard, but also that it will taste even better.
Of course, all pork available in markets today is much better, leaner, and more reliably hygienic than what we used to buy decades ago. Back then, everyone advised cooking pork until it was thoroughly well-done. Nowadays, for thoroughly cooked but still juicy results, I recommend cooking pork to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F.
Test for doneness by inserting a good-quality instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat not touching bone. Then, remove the roast and let it rest at warm room temperature, covered with aluminum foil, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Doing this serves two purposes. First, the hot juices in the meat have time to settle back into the fibers, making for juicier results once you carve. And second, the internal temperature of the meat continues to rise from residual heat, ultimately resulting in meat cooked to an ideal internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
When the time comes to carve your pork roast, be sure to use a sharp carving knife and to cut against the grain. This means that your knife blade should cut perpendicular to the direction in which the meat's fibers run, resulting in neat, more tender slices.
To go with my roast pork, I like to use the widely available Granny Smith variety of apples. Their flavor has a nice balance of both sweetness and tartness, and the apples stay firm and in one piece even when roasted. They join the pork in the pan to roast at relatively gentle heat, 325 degrees F. after the meat has gone through an initial brief high-heat roasting that helps to brown its exterior and seal in its juices.
While the finished pork rests, nestled among the apples, you have time to transform the pan juices into a simple sauce. The results are so delicious and beautiful that you'll want to serve them for a festive occasion, yet so easy that you can make this dish for a casual family dinner.
ROASTED PORK LOIN WITH GRANNY SMITH APPLES
Serves 6 to 8
1/2 cup organic apple juice
1/2 cup store-bought natural barbecue sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram leaves, plus fresh marjoram sprigs for garnish
1 whole boneless organic pork top loin, 3 to 5 pounds total weight
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 organic Granny Smith apples, cored and halved
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the apple juice, barbecue sauce, balsamic vinegar, and mustard. Stir in the garlic and chopped marjoram. Put the pork in a large, heavy-duty, sealable plastic food-storage bag. Pour in the apple juice mixture. Seal the bag, taking care to remove all the air. Put the bag, sealed edge up, in a large mixing bowl to catch any accidental leaks. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or as long as overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the pork from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and pat dry. Sprinkle the pork generously all over with salt and black pepper and place on a rack in a roasting pan.
Roast the pork for 15 minutes. Baste the roast with the reserved marinade. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. Place the apples in the roasting pan around the pork. Continue roasting, basting every 15 minutes for the first half hour only, until the center of the meat registers 150 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer, 1 to 1-1/2 hours more. Transfer the pork and apples to a carving platter and garnish with marjoram sprigs. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a small saucepan. If necessary, add a little water to the hot roasting pan and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits; add this liquid to the saucepan. Skim off any fat floating on the surface. Bring to a boil and simmer until it has a syrupy consistency, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a sauceboat.
Carve the pork across the grain into slices 1/2 inch thick. Arrange overlapping slices and an apple half on each serving plate and spoon some sauce over the meat. Serve immediately.
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