An intensely tart sweet gastrique can add fantastic zing to both sweet and savory dishes. Basically, a gastrique is a highly concentrated sweet and sour sauce. Classically, it's prepared by deglazing caramelized sugar with vinegar before adding flavorings. While it can be used to infuse sweet acidic depth to tomato sauces, it's typically flavored with fruit and used to cut through the richness of cooked meat, seafood, and poultry. Almost anything can be used to prepare a gastrique. Tropical fruits, seasonal summer berries, and winter citrus are a few examples of the endless possibilities. Right now, it's cranberry season. The inherent natural tartness of a cranberry gastrique during the holiday season would pair beautifully with robust salty ham, fatty pork, succulent duck, long roasted turkey, or braised chicken. I used it as a bright counter punch for bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin.
Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Gastrique and Spinach Timbales.
So, here's the deal. I'm all about the classics and doing what I'm supposed to do. Although the classic method for making a gastrique is quite simple, the notion of pouring vinegar into a gurgling vat of molten hot caramelized sugar seemed horrifying. Nope. Not after a few glasses of wine, thank you very much. I used a calmer technique that produced the same result.
I combined equal parts (1 cup each) sugar and rice wine vinegar in a heavy cast iron skillet over a medium flame to melt the sugar into the vinegar. When the liquid started to boil, I tumbled 2 cups of fresh cranberries into the mix, let it rip until the cranberries exploded, and simmered the crimson bath until it reduced by half. After straining the gastrique through a fine mesh sieve, I set it aside to cool.
Pig wrapped in pig. I shingled 10 slices of thick-cut smoked bacon on a large cutting board. After brushing the tenderloin with tangy Maille dijon mustard, I showered it with cracked pepper, tossed a few fresh rosemary leaves over the bacon, rolled the tenderloin into a tightly bound bacon cylinder, placed it (seam side down) into a large skillet, and slid it into a 350 oven to roast for 45 minutes, turning it occasionally in the rendered bacon fat. Yep.
Frozen spinach would have worked wonderfully for the timbales, but I had several rooted bunches of gorgeous Shelby County baby curly leaf spinach. I rinsed the spinach, finely chopped it while it was still wet (about 2 cups), and used the residual water to steam the spinach (covered in plastic wrap) in the microwave for 2 minutes before letting it cool and wringing out the moisture in a kitchen towel. After buttering two 4 ounce ramekins, I mixed the chopped spinach with 1 beaten egg, 3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 heaping tablespoons of pecorino romano cheese, fresh nutmeg, salt, and pepper. I poured the creamed spinach into the ramekins, placed them in a water bath, and slid them into the oven to bake alongside the sizzling spitting pork.
When the pork tenderloin reached 145 degrees, (about 45 minutes) I pulled it from the oven to rest and let the spinach timbales bake an additional 5 minutes until they were firm.
Using the crisp bronzed bacon shingles as a guide, I sliced the pork into medallions, basted them with the pan drippings, and plated them with the inverted spinach timbales to the side, puddling the cranberry gastrique between the two.
The cranberry gastrique bridged the earthy spinach and sultry pork with sharp sweet acidity. While the tangy dijon mustard seeped through the fatty bacon and flavored the pan drippings, flecks of rosemary added subtle piney undertones. Unlike most somber sweet and sour sauces, the vibrant gastrique popped. With an intense cranberry essence, it was bright, crisp, and clean.