Translation: “If you put a shtreimel on a pig, would it make him a rabbi?” See, because a shtreimel is a fur-trimmed hat traditionally worn by Hasidic Jews on the Sabbath, and the pig is ritually unclean. Ha!
I know I’m not the only one around here who likes a little kashrut humor now and then, am I right? I’ll be performing at Kutsher’s all week. I’m opening for the reanimated corpse of Jackie Mason.
What? Oh, he’s not? Sorry, Jackie! L’chaim!
I was chatting with next door neighbor C. a week or two ago about braised pork roasts; he’s a bit of a roastaholic.* He and wife J. are always inviting us for dinner last-minute and producing long-braised roasts out of thin air. For me, a roast is a more of a special occasion thing, like champagne or group sex. I guess it is for C. and J. too, but they consider “Friday” to be more of a special occasion than I do.**
Anyway, we were flipping through a Marcella Hazan book and C. asked if I’d ever made pork braised in milk (or maiale al latte), which I haven’t. But I love pork and I love dairy, so it seemed silly not to give it a go.
*E.g., addicted to roastahol.
**I think we would all do well to adopt this mindset.
Pork braised in milk: Every time you make it, a rabbi gets heartburn and doesn’t know why.
I read through the Marcella Hazan recipe and checked out a few others. Different people used different cuts of pork: some the leaner loin, some a fatty pork shoulder, others a rib roast. There were other variations as well. Do you braise in milk only, or a mixture of milk and cream? Should there be any garlic in the sauce, or do you want the pure flavor of the milk to stand out? If you use garlic, two cloves or twenty? What about sage? Citrus zest?
I tried to get Brian to write a MATLAB algorithm to make these decisions for me, but that just led to more questions: Should we use C++ instead? What about Fortran? How many variables did I want to declare? What was my 2011 pre-tax income? How many fingers is the clown holding up?
At some point it becomes overwhelming and you just want to eat dinner, so I used my advanced intellect to randomly make decisions:
- Pork loin. Cooks faster.
- Milk and cream, in a three-to-one ratio.
- Garlic. Eight cloves.
- Sage. Eight Leaves.
Plus a few decidedly non-traditional touches:
- Nutmeg. Why not? Good with creamy sauces.
- Whiskey to deglaze. Just because.
So I seared off a pork loin seasoned just with salt and pepper. Whiskey to deglaze. Milk, cream, garlic and sage into the pot. Nestle in the pork.
Some recipes suggested braising for hours until the meat starts to fall apart. I was hesitant to cook a loin for that long – it’s such a lean cut – and J. was over for dinner, circling the stove like a starved carrion bird demanding that we eat soon. I let the pork braise until it hit 140 degrees, then removed it and wrapped it in foil to rest while the sauce finished cooking down.
If there’s anyone left who doesn’t know this, NO you no longer have to cook your pork to the oblivion of 165. YES, your pork loin can still be a little pink. NO, you will probably not get trichinosis. NO, I am not liable if you do, because the act of reading this blog signals your assent to complete indemnification of the writer. You also agree to give me thirty days notice before evacuating the premises and are required to replace yourself with another reader at your own expense. It’s in the fine print. Trust me.
I simmered the milk sauce for another thirty minutes or so (the pork was stashed in a warming drawer).
Here’s the thing: it’s going to look..not so good. The milk solids will clump together and start to brown. The garlic cloves will break down, adding further chunkiness. Overall, it will appear to others that you are cooking down a pot of hork. You will think that maybe you fucked it up. I hope, for your sake, that you did NOT fuck it up, because I have no idea how you would tell the difference.
Be ye not disheartened! Serve up your maiale al latte over a nice heap of creamy polenta, all the better to catch all the hork drippings, and make a side of swiss chard sauteed with crushed red pepper flakes. The meat will be tender and juicy, the sauce rich and sweet and nutty. The sage and garlic won’t be punchy at all, they’ll just give it needed depth. The chard will help cut the richness.
Unless you fucked it up. And then, remember: no liability.
Maiale al Latte (Pork Braised in Milk)
2.5 lb. boneless pork loin roast (note: NOT just the tenderloin, the whole loin)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. whiskey of your choice (or sub out for stock)
3 c. whole milk
1 c. heavy cream
8 cloves garlic, peeled
8 sage leaves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Put a large, heavy pot (a dutch oven is nice, if you have one) over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. While the olive oil heats, sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the pork.
When the oil is shimmery, add the pork and sear well on all sides; this should take about 15 minutes total. Remove the seared pork from the pot for the moment.
Reduce the heat under the pot to medium. Pour in the whiskey, as it bubbles, use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the whiskey pretty much disappears, about 2 minutes.
Pour in the milk and cream and add the garlic, sage and nutmeg. Return the pork to the pot with any accumulated juices. Bring the whole thing to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork registers 140 degrees. Remove the cooked pork and wrap in foil to keep warm.
Continue to simmer the milk sauce. It will reduce, thicken, get clumpy and darken in color (mine was kinda beige, others I saw online were more milk chocolatey). Smoosh the garlic cloves into the sauce if they haven’t already disintegrated. You’ll end up with about a cup/cup and a half of thick sauce. Check the seasoning: you may not need any additional salt, as the salt from the original sear seasons things nicely
Slice the pork and arrange on a platter. Spoon the sauce over, pulling out the sage leaves. Serve immediately.