The new holiday centerpiece that will definitely pull focus. —INGRAIN, Winter 2018
Seesawing between turkey and something different this year? This is the holiday centerpiece that retains the most “turkey-like” flavors and textures, if there is such a thing. Loosely based on the Tuscan classic, our milk-braised pork only gets better when herbs and fat garlic cloves are tucked inside the boneless loin (actually, two loins tied together). After a slow roast in the oven (rather than braised on the stove top, as is traditional), the braising liquid serves as a richly flavored base for possibly the best gravy we’ve ever tasted. We realize that is a dangerous claim to make at a holiday table, but this version even manages to bridge the divide between milk and stock gravy diehards.
As for the pork, it can hang with traditional sides, from brussels sprouts to baked apples and certainly cranberry sauce and stuffing. Have a nice chunk of meat left over? Resist the urge to chop it up for the soup pot. The next day, the roast will firm up enough to slice thinly. Hello, giant leftovers sandwich!
– Most boneless roasts sold by grocers are on the smaller side (less than 4 pounds) and trimmed of virtually all fat. Hit your corner butcher shop (you know, the one that’s been there forever with the paint chipping around the glass case), and tell them you want a 6- to 7-pound center-cut, boneless loin roast with a nice ½-inch fat cap on top. Order that ahead, and ask for the loin to be trussed firmly but not too tightly, as you want enough room to slip in those aromatics.
Cooking vessel size matters, too. A milk-braising method for a large roast works best if the pork is tucked snugly into a dish with the milk high up the sides of the roast. A large Dutch oven is the typical stove top choice, but a long, narrow metal hotel pan with high sides really tucks that pork in milk during an oven roast. A stainless steel hotel pan isn’t pretty, but this roast is more on the homely side anyway (in a good way). For a 6- to 7-pound roast, a ⅓-size pan, as it’s called in restaurant speak, will do the trick.
Pairing The mild spiciness, nuanced bready-ness, and dry finish of Four Star Pils (Goose Island) harmonize with the juicy pork and creamy gravy. Also try Prima Pils (Victory Brewing).
Serves 8 to 10
6 to 7 pound boneless pork loin roast with fat cap, tied
1 pound onions, any variety (cipollini, yellow, red)
Fresh rosemary branches
1 head garlic, separated into cloves
Whole milk (count on ½ gallon, probably more)
To serve: gravy (ingredients + recipe below), charred garlic heads (ingredients + recipe below), (bread (host’s choice)
Pork dry and season well with salt and pepper. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a large skillet and brown pork on all sides. Don’t rush. Remove pork from the pan.
Oven to 425°F. Peel and halve any small onions or section large onions through the root end so the wedges stay together. Nestle most of the onions (save a few sections), along with a sprig of rosemary and several sage leaves, in the bottom of a ⅓-size stainless steel hotel pan, Dutch oven, or other pot or baking dish with high sides.
3 to 4 garlic cloves and thinly slice them; slip the slices and a dozen or so sage leaves into the cavity between the two loins (beauty is not the end game; give them a good shove). Place the tied roast, fat cap up, in the hotel pan and scatter a few more herbs, onions, and whole (unpeeled) garlic cloves alongside the pork. Pour enough milk into the pan so it comes almost all the way up the sides of the meat. Cover and seal the pan tightly with foil.
ROAST Pork for 1 hour, then flip it over so the fat cap is on the bottom. Reduce oven to 375°F and roast for 1 hour longer. Remove the foil and let the pork roast, uncovered, 30 minutes more (a total of 2½ hours). Allow pork to rest for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour in the braising liquid. The milk will look curdled; that’s a good thing (BTW, those curds are delicious, you deserve them). Strain the stock and reserve to make the gravy.
Pork on a cutting board and remove the twine. Let rest another 15 to 20 minutes while you make the gravy. Slice the pork and arrange the meat on a platter. Serve the pork with gravy, charred garlic heads, and plenty of bread.
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
⅓ cup flour
4 cups of reserved pork stock (or a mixture of stock and fresh milk, if needed)
MELT 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and sprinkle in ⅓ cup flour. Whisk constantly until flour begins to lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in about 4 cups of reserved pork stock (or a mixture of stock and fresh milk, if needed) and continue to whisk until gravy thickens. Add more stock if needed to thin gravy.
Several garlic heads with thick, papery skins and slice each head in half horizontally through the middle. (The paper will help hold the top half of the cloves together; if some fall loose, it’s fine.)
Garlic cloves generously with olive oil and roast at 425°F for 10 to 15 minutes, until cloves soften and are well browned on the edges.