Welcome to our first joint post! This marks the start of what we hope will become a monthly tradition. When we began talking about creating a food blog, one of our ideas was to have a monthly post in which we chose a recipe from the current issue of Bon Appétit, cooked it in our respective apartment kitchens, and shared our trials and tribulations here. We’re long time subscribers (Laura has given Jessica a gift subscription for Christmas for the last several years!) and admirers of the Bon and we have a habit of drooling over the magazines together, either in person or via text and email. Taking the next step to cook the same recipe together — albeit 228 miles apart — seemed like it could be even more fun. And it was.
Choosing a recipe from the October issue was tough because there were so many good looking items…but there wasn’t any single thing that jumped out for both of us. Through a series of texts, we narrowed the choices to some of the safe-seeming choices (shrimp and white beans, lentil cassoulet, milk braised pork) or something fancier and outside of our comfort zones (layer cakes, sage fried meatballs). Jessica wisely thought we should play it safer for now and get fancy for the holidays, which left us with shrimp, eggs, lentils, or pork. We went with the Pork Loin Braised in Milk, in part because, as Jessica said, “it just sounds so weird!” The recipe came from “The Providers” column, which is written by the authors of the tried and true Dinner A Love Story blog.
Laura’s Take: I took a stab at the recipe first. I was excited to be cooking the milk braised pork because it had previously caught my eye on Dinner A Love Story and in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Ms. Hazan wrote in her headnote that despite the simplicity of ingredients, the outcome of the dish is genius: “[t]he pork acquires a delicacy of texture and flavor that lead some to mistake it for veal, and the milk disappears to be replaced by clusters of delicious, nut-brown sauce.” I could not wait to try this.
The recipe looks simple: season the pork, brown it on all sides in butter and oil, wipe out the pan, put the pork back in the pot surrounded by a milk-nutmeg mixture, cook it for a couple of hours, then remove the meat and reduce the sauce. Even though the recipe seemed straightforward, my inexperience with braising pork put me in a quandary a few times. Early on, I realized I might have over-peppered the raw pork loin. As I explained to Jessica in an email after the fact, “the instructions say to rub the pork with 2 tsp salt and pepper, which I took to mean 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp freshly ground pepper. That’s a lot. After I seasoned my little pink friend, I looked at the ingredient list and it said 2 tsp salt and the next ingredient was pepper. Soooo probably supposed to do 2 tsp salt and an amount of pepper to your liking. Ed and I really liked the lotsa pepper approach, though, so not a bad mistake. Maybe even a happy mistake.”
The aspect of this recipe that interested and confused me the most was that nut brown curds were promised to appear in the milk sauce after the pork was braised. As I wrote to Jessica, “after you’ve turn, turn, turned your pork in the milk-fat sauce for a couple hours, you set your pork on a plate and reduce the milk sauce until light brown curds form. Tell me if you have any idea what that means. I don’t think I know what a curd is, but I got some tannish/off white milky globules, which I assumed were the curds. They did get sort of brown. Tasted good, so I figure that was about right.” I feel like I never got the “nut brown sauce” Marcella raved about, but I did get something tasty. My hunch is that if I had let the milk sauce reduce longer or braised the pork at a higher temperature, my sauce would have browned and solidified a bit more. I was reluctant to let it reduce for too long because after two hours, the globules were well seasoned bordering on salty. I feared losing too much liquid would make the situation way too salty. My pan was also a bit big for the piece of pork I purchased, so it’s possible that a closer pan-to-pork ratio would have yielded a result more like the recipe description.
I paired the pork with a baked acorn squash recipe from Pioneer Woman. The squash was tasty and sweet, but not the best take on acorn squash I’ve had. The sweetness was nice with the savory pork. I’d imagined that the milk would make the pork sauce kind of sweet, but it was REALLY savory, like punch you in the mouth. Hard. Also, the pork did not need to be braised for a full two hours. I wish I had pulled it after one and a half.
Jessica’s Take: I was SO glad to have Laura’s notes on this before I started (especially her thoughts on waiting for the pan to cool before wiping it down: “After you brown the pork on all sides, the recipe wants you to set the pork on a plate and pour the fat out of the pan and wipe down the pan. Um, the pan will be really hot, so don’t try to wipe it out with a paper towel right away like some fools might do”). I found that I had a ton of questions about this recipe, and Laura was unsurprisingly awesome about walking me through. The second step in the instructions, heating butter and oil “in a small heavy pot just wide enough to fit pork loin,” strangely stumped me. I was planning on using my little dutch oven, but realized that the pork loin wouldn’t fit–should I cut the loin, curl it around the pot, or buy a bigger dutch oven (something I seriously considered, but thankfully stopped short of)? I texted Laura half a dozen questions about this and she offered great advice, but I ended up just cutting the loin right in half, meaning that it all fit but didn’t strike me as snug in the pot, especially compared to the Bon pic. I’m still not sure if it mattered. I’m also not sure why I got so hung up on this one direction–I think that since I was cooking a new to me cut of meat, I assumed there must be necessary secret techniques that would make or break it. Probably not, tho, as it turned out!
This recipe presented a little bit of a bummer for me in the beginning, because it felt like a special meal and I was excited to turn it into a reason to have people over, but none of my favorite folks were free. I decided to go ahead and make it for myself (which resulted in delicious lunch leftovers that really impressed my students), and have to confess that I was having a hard time getting into the spirit of cooking a solo fancy dinner at first. That quickly changed when I snuck a peak under the lid early on and became glad that I was the only witness to the weirdness that was happening–it looked, for lack of a better word, kinda gross. From the directions, I had imagined that the pork would braise quietly in the milk, and that curds wouldn’t form until after I’d removed the meat and started cooking down the remaining sauce. Nope! For me at least, curd-like things started forming really quickly. I texted Laura about half an hour in to say, “braising q–did kind of disturbing…solids appear early in the simmering process? Its too early for the curd stage, I believe, but things are happening.” Solids had formed in the sauce, on the pork, and on the sides of the pan, and I described them to La as “creepy.”
With her encouragement I forged ahead, checking and stirring the sauce pretty frequently. How weird and different this was from anything else I had cooked made the process oddly fun: every time I lifted the lid, I wondered what exactly I would find! I ended up cooking my pork for just under an hour and a half. Since I had smaller pieces of meat they were cooking up quickly, and the sauce was reducing faster than seemed ideal. If I made this again I think I’d cut the cooking time even more–the pork was definitely a little dry, tho still tasty. By the time I was finished, the sauce was pretty much no longer sauce, and was instead all curds. At least I think they were curds? Laura and I both remain a little mystified by this. We got really different results, and a quick google search showed a lot of variety in how the sauce came out for other cooks. I kept on reducing mine for a bit, even as I was losing liquid, in part because I was hoping for something that looked a little more appetizing. I got it, in the end, but do wonder how I would have liked the results if I had stopped cooking when the sauce looked like this:
I followed Laura’s lead and made a Pioneer Woman acorn squash recipe to go along with the pork, and was really pleased with the combo. The sweetness was a great contrast to the savoriness of the pork and saltiness (which I liked) of the curds, and it was nice to have the flavors of rosemary and squash in an otherwise kind of one-taste meal. The two dishes got very mixed together when I reheated them for lunch at work, and I found that I liked the flavors even better when really combined.
Final Thoughts: Laura thought this was flavorful and unusual, but it probably won’t become a favorite. It was tasty enough to attempt again with the goal of achieving moister meat and browner curds. Ed ate two servings, but when asked for his opinion a few days later, he delivered this classic calls-em-as-he-sees-em line, “I didn’t understand the topping.” Jessica, once she got over her freaked-out-ness about how the sauce looked in process, was really pleased with how simple this recipe was, especially considering how labor intensive the end result seems. She found the curds really tasty and strongly agreed with Laura’s “punch you in the mouth” savory assessment. She’d make it again, but not before she tried some other pork tenderloin recipes.
The recipe for Pork Loin Braised in Milk can be found on the Bon website.