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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Red Wattle

The long arctic winter came to a crashing halt when I spotted  gorgeous baby rainbow chard from Elmwood Stock Farm at our Lexington Farmers' Winter Market. Skidaddle, winter. Boom, it's over. You've lost your power here. Because I'd grown accustomed to the usual winter market pickings, I was surprised to find something green (other than kale) dancing in the morning light. Finally. With the official Farmers' Market Spring Kickoff on April 5th just days away, the feathery baby chard leaves offered a sneak peak of what's to come. Shop local. Shop often. Expect the unexpected. There will always be surprises. Always. Bring it.

Puffed up from my self-declared secret find, I went on my merry way. Bounding past the unassuming Two Forks Farm table, home of Hood's Heritage Hogs,Travis Hood pulled me in with his unabashed enthusiasm and commitment to his craft. Talk about passion. I was totally blown away. Their mission statement begins very simply, Know your farmer. Know your food. As I flipped through the various Red Wattle Hog cuts he brought to the market that day (roasts,loins, chops, bacon, ham steaks,and sausage), people hovered around waiting for me to choose something. When I finally settled on a rather small tail-end pork tenderloin, the gallery jumped into the fray and gobbled up the rest. That was exciting.  In a way, it reminded me of those frenzied early summer mornings when I felt the need to rush to the farmers' market to buy the good tomatoes before they vanished. Welcome back, Spring. Open arms..

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Wilted Baby Rainbow Chard.
Years before my cooking stints at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival, we hosted bourbon tasting/pairing dinners at work.  Back in the day, (my baby step days) I tried to keep things as simple as possible. My go to entree at the time was bourbon braised pork loin. I seasoned  a few 8 pound boneless pork loins with salt, slathered them with dijon mustard, and packed them with brown sugar before roasting the pork until the fat melted away and swirled into the pan juices, about 2 1/2 hours. While basic, it was killer.

Scaling everything back with a few downsized changes, I adapted my old stand-by method to fit the shorter cooking time for my smaller less fatty Red Wattle pork tenderloin.

I mixed 1 cup dark brown sugar with 1 tablespoon each onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, kosher salt, ground mustard, and cracked black pepper.  After smearing the whole tenderloin with sharp dijon mustard, I packed the spiced brown sugar on all four sides and set it aside to come to room temperature.

After 35 minutes, I splashed 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large cast iron skillet and cranked the heat to medium high. Just as it started to ripple, I added the pork tenderloin and browned it on all sides before deglazing the hot skillet (off the heat) with 1 cup of Town Branch bourbon. I scraped the sticky bits from the bottom of the skillet, added 1/2 cup chicken stock, and slid the pork tenderloin into a preheated 400 degree oven to roast until the internal temperature reached 145 degrees. After 30 minutes, I pulled the meat from the oven, placed it on a cutting board (covered) and let it rest for 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute throughout the meat.

I strained the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer, poured them back into the skillet and added 1/2 cup chicken stock along with a splash of bourbon. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and let it bubble away.

Typically, when preparing swiss chard, the tender leaves are stripped from the tougher stalks. The newly harvested baby chard was so fresh, I left the tiny stalks attached to the leaves, trimmed them up a bit, and rinsed them under cold running water.

With everything on deck, I didn't want to cook the crap out of the chard. Working over a medium flame, I sauteed 2 thinly sliced shallots with 2 quartered hot pickled cherry peppers. When the shallots started to caramelize, I threw a handful of the baby chard  into the pan, kissed it with fresh lemon juice, gave it a quick toss, and pulled it from the heat.

After slicing the pork tenderloin into 2" medallions, I nestled them into pillows of creamy celery root puree, twirled the wilted baby chard to the side, spooned the pan sauce over the medallions, and finished with peppery watercress.

I loved everything about this. Anchored by the airy celery root puree and lovely wilted chard, the utterly tender heritage pork tasted like pork should taste. Real. As the tenderloin roasted, the few ribbons of fat basted the meat like butter and melted into the mustardy brown sugar rub. Like my old school method, the spiced caramelized fat mixed with the reduced bourbon to create a sauce spiked with vanilla undertones. With a bit of added stock, the sauce morphed into a subtle sum of it parts. Savory, sweet, delicate, and complex.

1 comment:

Jill said...

Tom I love this recipe. Thanks for promoting that Red Wattle pork. We raise it in New Mexico(beginners). Recipes like yours help promote awareness to the breed and the exceptional pork. To preserve the breed we need to EAT it! Thanks for sharing! I'd love a link to our new site too if you're inclined.