I don’t go in much for adventure cooking. The dishes with too many steps or too many fancy ingredients rarely happen here. My mom had a rule when it came to cooking – if the recipe went onto the second page, she wasn’t going to make it. It’s a rule I’ve mostly adopted in my own cooking. But I also love to challenge myself when it comes to cooking. I just don’t think “challenge” means buying expensive ingredients or using all the pots and pans I have to make a sauce.
My own personal challenge these past few years has been learning how to cook pork. It may seem mundane to some, but it’s been good to spend time thinking about how to use different cuts, what flavors go well with pork, and what temperatures to cook the meat to. Failing to produce a good pork chop, coming to the realization that pork and applesauce is very good while pork and apple cider vinegar is not quite as nice.
You see, we didn’t eat much pork in my house growing up. We didn’t go so far as to keep kosher but my parents had when they were growing up and so pork never really entered either of their repertoires, with the exception of bacon which admittedly only started after my brother insisted. My first pork chop was at a friend’s house. I’d called my mom and outright lied about dinner (“Um, we’re having pizza, bye”) not out of fear of her response, but of some divine retribution. I fully expected a thunderbolt to strike me down with my first bite. It didn’t, and the pork was dry anyway.
Perhaps you’ve already unlocked the secrets of roasting pork, but I’ve only just gotten there. It’s my kind of kitchen challenge. And damn, it tastes good.
Roast Pork with Apples
Makes 4-6 servings
So, about those secrets I learned? Here they are, in no particular order: Pork is good with apples but not so great with acid. Use any vinegar or lemon sparingly. Pork also isn’t as fatty as some of us grew up thinking and many of the cuts are pretty lean. If it doesn’t have intramuscular fat (like loin and chops) then cook it hot and fast so the meat doesn’t dry out. If it does have a lot of fat mixed in with muscle, cook it low and slow to really break everything down. If you do that in a slow cooker, let the cooked dish sit overnight in the fridge so it’s easy to get rid of some of the fat – there will be a lot melted off; more than you want to eat.
2 onion, cut in half and thinly sliced into half moon (any kind will do)
2 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
2 lbs pork loin*
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp plus 1 tbs salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
About a half cup of applesauce for serving
Preheat the oven to 425F and get out a glass baking dish. Line the bottom with the apple and onion slices, add 1 teaspoon salt, and toss it together. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the pepper to season the pork, then place it on top of the onions/apples.
Oil the top of the pork and roast it for 15 minutes at 425F. Then drop the heat to 350F and cook for another 30-45 minutes, until the pork is 145-150 in the center – that will give you a juicy and very slightly pink in the center piece of pork. Yes, the USDA says 145 is a good temperature for pork. Slice it up and serve with the apples and onions and some additional applesauce on top. It also keeps well for up to a week in the fridge. To reheat it, put a pan over medium heat and add the apples/onions to the bottom. Place the pork slices on top and cover the pan. Let it warm for about 10-15 minutes at which point the pork should be hot but not overcooked since it was over the vegetables.
* You’re looking for a cut that doesn’t have much intramuscular fat which means no shoulder or leg; loin or chops will do nicely