Forty years ago, I began to take learning to cook seriously. And one of my earliest memories was of a pork roast, a loin, seasoned with rosemary, cayenne, sugar, white wine, and garlic. I learned it, in fact, from Craig Claiborne’s still useful New York Times Cookbook.
What Mr. Claiborne did not do in that recipe (at least as far as I recall), was poke holes in the pork and shove that herb-spice mixture in there. That was left for my friend Andrea to teach me, a dozen or so years later. Andrea, who is from Rome and remains one of my closest friends and most adored cooking partners, took a pork roast and laid it on a bed of potatoes, then prepared a mixture of sage (or was it rosemary? either will work), garlic, salt, and pepper, and shoved that mixture into the pork, poking holes with a sharp knife. (There is, of course, a complicated French way of doing this, called barding.) He rubbed it on top, too, and sprinkled it over the potatoes. Then he poured what I then considered more-than-generous amounts of olive oil over all and roasted the thing.
The recipe, as they say in the music business, goes kinda like this (but please – read on afterwards; I’m just getting to the point here): Roast Pork with Sage and Potatoes
Makes 6 or more servings
Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours, largely unattended
[From How to Cook Everything]
This is best with firm, waxy potatoes like fingerlings or red potatoes; if they’re small enough, keep them whole. And of course you can skip the potatoes all together for a more basic roast pork.
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 (3- to 4-pound) pork loin roast, bone-in, or 1 (2- to 3-pound) boneless roast, or a similar size portion of fresh ham
1. Preheat the oven to 425dgF. Mix together the garlic, sage, salt, and pepper. Put the potatoes in a roasting pan that is also large enough to hold the pork, and toss them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and about 1 teaspoon of the garlic-sage mixture. Put the roasting pan in the oven while you prepare the pork.
2. Using a thin-bladed knife and your fingers, make slits all over the pork and insert most of the remaining garlic-sage mixture. Spread the rest of it all over the outside of the roast, and nestle it among the potatoes. Pour a little more olive oil over the meat and put it in the oven.
3. Roast, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven, stir the potatoes (you will probably have to scrape some of them off the bottom of the pan), and baste the pork with a little of the pan juices. Lower the heat to 325dgF and continue to cook, stirring the potatoes every 15 minutes or so. After 1 1/4 hours or so total cooking time, begin to check the meat (it’s likely to take longer, but it’s worth checking); when an instant-read thermometer registers 145dgF to 150dgF, transfer the meat to a warm platter.
4. While the meat rests for 10 to 15 minutes, turn the oven heat up to 450dgF to make sure the potatoes are done and crisp (use your judgment; you can simply run them under the broiler if they just need a bit of browning, or keep the oven at 325dgF if they’re perfectly done). Carve the meat and serve with the potatoes.
When I first made the Claiborne recipe (an adaptation of which is also in How to Cook Everything), pork fat was not a problem: In those years, the 70s and well into the 80s, you could throw a piece of pork – from just about any part of the animal – into the oven and get not only a moist roast, but enough pork fat to cook with for a week or two. When Andrea made me his roast, as I said, olive oil was part of the plan. (Frankly, I can’t remember whether it was necessary or simply a Roman twitch.) Now, of course, if you cook a pork roast produced in the ordinary (i.e. industrial) way, chances are you are going to have to add fat if you want something juicy.
Some producers are changing that, and I was lucky enough to be given one of these, a boneless pork loin so fatty that some people will find it repellent. Others (most, I hope), will find it supremely appealing, as I did. I poked holes in it, crammed them with salt and garlic and pepper and rosemary, roasted it over potatoes, without paying much attention (and without olive oil), and served it, ecstatically – it was the best piece of pork I’ve had in years. Some of us ate every piece of fat we encountered, and loved it. Others set the fat aside – despite scolding by yours truly – but appreciated how moist the lean was, as well they might have.
The downside is that this roast costs about a hundred bucks. At over four pounds, it’ll easily serve eight, so the per-serving cost is, if not moderate, then perhaps justifiable for a special occasion. (Pork roasts of any kind are special occasion foods in my book, and the argument is if you’re eating less meat you can afford to spend more on it when you do eat it.) I am still getting use out of the fat I poured off of it, too, which I’ll get to tomorrow or the next day.