Why Salt Ahead?

This menu is one that became a column somewhat recently, but the link will expire soon, so I post it here for you instead.  It might make a nice entertaining menu for a smaller group of people – maybe for a Sunday night meal or if you are feeding guests from out of town.

The original idea for this recipe came from a technique used by Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café.  She salts all of the meat and some of the vegetables as they come into the restaurant, giving days, rather than minutes for a deeper flavor as opposed to simply a surface salting.  It’s a form of dry-salting and actually allows retention of moisture rather than a drying out of the meat.

Here’s how it works.  The chemical reaction that takes place is called osmosis, which is the moving out of or into cells – in this case, salt, moisture and aromatics.  At first, salted meats do leach liquid which is where the still popular idea that “salting ahead of time dries out meat” comes from.  But then, the reverse begins to happen and the moisture that returns to the cells is now flavored with salt, making the cells more resilient to heat and promoting juiciness and tenderness.  The salt actually goes to work on the proteins and “opens them up” allowing them to hold more moisture.

This technique is most dramatic with large, sinuous cuts of meat where the surface area to weight is lesser.  The amount of salt used on these cuts will look too heavy handed initially, but will produce a well seasoned, not salty, succulent slice of meat.

For smaller and more tender cuts of meat such as chicken breasts or in this case, the pork tenderloin, less time and salt is required.  This method is also forgiving.  If you change your mind and decide to have something else for dinner, it will wait another day.  In addition, if you found you over bought at the grocery store and are worried about a few things going before you have a chance to use them, this is also a good technique for extending the life and freshness of your purchases.  Salting is a time honored method of preservation used for centuries, although we are talking about using considerably less salt in this method.  Keep in mind that this won’t bring back from the dead what should be given a “go directly to the garbage” ticket.

I used locally raised pork for this recipe which usually means the tenderloins are smaller due to the smaller size of the pigs when slaughtered.  In the grocery store, they typically come 2 to a package and are 12 to 16oz. each.  I find that if sliced on the bias as you would flank steak, that a full 6 to 8oz. portion per person is not necessary.  This will then serve 6 to 8 people instead of the 4 to 6 listed below and it’s possible to stretch to 10 to 12 if you plan to serve another side.  If you can only find the tenderloins packaged in twos, either save one for another meal or increase the rest of the ingredients by two.

This recipe would also be great with a blue cheese aioli or another cold and creamy blue cheese sauce.

Pork Tenderloin with Toasted Walnuts, Sage and Blue Cheese
2 small pork tenderloins or one large, about 1 pound, silverskin removed
two generous pinches of sea salt, with a grind the size of kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon canola or peanut oil
several grind of fresh black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lightly packed sage leaves
pinches of salt for both the sage leaves and walnuts
1 cup whole walnuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 oz. crumbled blue cheese

The day before you plan to serve the tenderloin, lightly sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Return to the refrigerator until ready to cook.  They can be salted 24 to 48 hours ahead.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the canola oil to the pan.  Carefully add the tenderloin and season with black pepper.  Sear on all sides for 10 to 15 minutes or until an internal read thermometer registers 145 degrees.  Remove from the pan to a platter and let rest.

In the same pan, add the olive oil and then the sage leaves.  Spread them out so that they are all touching the bottom of the pan and remove with tongs when they darken and become crisp, about 1 minute.  Lightly salt and set aside on a serving platter.  Again with the same pan (being frugal on the water and the dishwasher), add the walnuts and stir until the outsides begin to brown lightly, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove from pan to the same platter that holds the sage, lightly salt and set aside.  Once more with the same pan, on medium-high heat, add the butter.  Swirl until the butter has bubbled and then begins to brown.  Pour over the sage and walnuts and toss gently.  Slice the pork with a diagonal cut 1/4 inch thick and place on top of the walnut and sage mixture.  Sprinkle all with blue cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6

Roasted Carrots, Red Onion and Kale
Curly or Russian kale will get a little crispy on the edges in this recipe while Lacinato kale (the longer more wrinkled variety) will wilt more like other greens do.  Both are delicious.
1 1/2 pounds carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus another 1/4 teaspoon for the kale
several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus another 2 tablespoons for the kale
1/2 bunch of kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  On a large roasting pan, drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over the carrots and onions.  Use your hands to coat evenly.  Roast for 1 hour or until the carrots are tender and the onions are beginning to brown.  Add the kale and drizzle with more oil salt and pepper.  Stir well and roast for another 20 minutes or until the kale is bright green and a little crispy on the edges.

Serves 4-6

Crispy Pasta
Like many things delicious, this recipe was invented through necessity, not creativity.  There are times either at home or on the boat when what I thought we had in the way of supplies, turns out to be less than originally planned (say, hypothetically eaten during a late night watch by a ravenous 20 year old deck hand who works hard all day and is still growing into his 6’4” limbs) and I need to move to plan C.

This will also work with leftover dried pasta, but is terrific with the homemade.  This is an intentionally loose recipe intended for the vagaries of the amount of leftover pasta with which you find yourself.  The amount of onions in this recipe is intended for 4-6 people, but if you want to increase or decrease the amount of pasta, then do so accordingly with the onions.

a handful of cold cooked pasta per person
1 cup caramelized onions (about 3 cups before you cook them down)
1-2 tablespoons grated Parmesan per person
salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Toss the pasta with olive oil in a roasting pan.  Place pan on middle shelf in oven.  Bake until the edges crisp up and turns golden brown.  Toss with the rest of ingredients and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes.  Serve immediately.


1 Comment

  • Eileen Hoffman
    December 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    One can never go wrong with blue cheese. Same for bacon!!! Can’t wait to try your pork tenderloin recipe. Happy New Year!


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