• Brined And Spiced Pork Tenderloin

    Brined and Spiced Pork Tenderloin.


    Ok, now that we got that out of the way….If you’ve read this blog a bit, it becomes pretty clear that we are big fans of low-and-slow pork dishes here at the farm. And while we would smoke and pull pork every week if our schedules and waistlines allowed, sometimes we need other options. And for quick(er) pork dishes we look to chops and tenderloins. There are few easier dishes to prepare than pork tenderloin. Put a quick sear on it, pop it in the oven for a few minutes and you’re done. And sometimes it’s pretty good, and sometimes it bone dry and lacking flavor. And there are a number of reasons why things don’t always work out. Basic overcooking is the obvious reason for dry and flavorless pork, but also the size, shape and liquid content of the tenderloin come into play. But there is a simple way to make leaner pork cuts tasty and tender every time, brining.

    A brine is simply a combination of water, salt, sugar and your choice of herbs and spices. But when you add meat, the brine performs some pretty cool magic chemistry that greatly improves the tenderness, juiciness and flavor of almost any cut. (Here is a good link that describes the science without getting too geeky). The only issue with brines is that they will dry out meats if you brine them for too long, but as long as you follow the recipe or the standard times for brining, it isn’t a  risk. Many cooks think of brines helping with large roasts like turkey or pulled pork, and the brining lasting for days. But for small cuts like pork tenderloins, even 45 minutes will help, and a few hours will do wonders.

    Opinions on the times for brining pork tenderloins vary from forty-five minutes to four hours. The shorter times will still make the tenderloin juicy and tender, but not impart much extra flavor. The longer times will add some salt and flavor, perhaps too much salt for some. Two hours is a good starting point. The other variable in the brine is adding extra flavors. Technically, all you need is water and salt, but sugar, herbs and spices will boost flavor. We suggest you tune the brine based on the type of meat and your tastes. But, in general, sugar, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf seem to work in most brines. Black pepper and chili peppers add some extra bite. We do suggest caution with strong or “piney” herbs like sage, oregano or rosemary- as they may add bitter notes to the brine. Best to save them for any rub or marinade you put on the pork.

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  • Spiced Pear Cardamom Butter

    Spiced Pear Cardamom Butter.

    As we mentioned in last week’s weekly cocktail post, we sometimes find pears to be a challenging ingredient. We like to eat our Comice pears out of hand, but when we got to our “mystery” pears we were a bit stumped. Part of the issue is that we have no idea what our “mystery” pears are. The tree is over 50 years old, and it has tremendous yield, but we have no other data. And since there are literally over 3000 varieties of pear, it “could” be almost anything. (And since Silicon Valley was an agricultural area before tech came, we do have all sorts of backyard heirloom fruit trees- so we mean “almost anything”).

    But, like many food mysteries, the proof is in the eating. We tried our mystery pears and they have a hard, crisp texture and a light, sweet flavor similar to apples with a touch of vanilla. A good pear, but not meant for eating fresh. After a little research, we decided the mystery pears were somewhere between a Bosc and a Concorde pear. Both are varieties best known for baking or canning. And since our mystery pears had light flavor, we went for a canning option and decided to make spiced pear butter.

    The advantage of making pear butter is that you can cook the pears to concentrate their flavor, and you can vary the cooking time and spices to match the pears you have. Since our pears had light, sweet, apple flavor, we chose to make Spiced Pear Cardamom Butter. The recipe is adapted from “Tart and Sweet“, Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler’s excellent canning and pickling book. The recipe combines pears and a strong dose of winter spices; cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. This may seem like overkill, but the pears carry the spices well and the result is very tasty. The spiced pear butter tastes like spicy apple butter but with honey and vanilla notes to go with the spices. Great on toast at breakfast, and certainly worth making.

    And making pear butter is easier than most canning and jamming. Simply peel and core the pears, then cut into 1/2 inch pieces (the pears are firm and easy to handle). Then add to a pot with a bit of lemon juice, a dash of salt, a cup of sugar and the spices. Cook for about an hour, mashing the pears occasionally, and then blend in a blender of food processor and return to the pot for a little extra cooking. You can choose the consistency you like. Then process the pear butter, following your standard steps. The only issue with this recipe is the pears themselves, they vary widely in density and water content. The recipe says you will get about seven half pints of pear butter, but you may get eight you may get five. We got five. But simply taste the pear butter as you make it and then process when you are ready. You will still have plenty of pear butter.

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