I am hoping that you have been paying attention over the last two weeks. It all seems a natural progression to me…
In week one of my postings, I used store bought puff pastry to see what happens when I follow a recipe for PUFF PASTRY WITH A BLUE CHEESE FILLING. I made a few mistakes, but I gained a bit of knowledge about how puff pastry works, what it does and I pondered what the advantages of using it were. In all humility, I was pretty amazed at the results, and you can read about them by clicking HERE.
It sounds silly to say, but I amazed myself the next week when I made the exact same dish. Two big differences, The recipe came from Julia Child (It was my first, she was very gentle). But the main difference was that I made my own puff pastry. It was a natural progression for my learning curve to go from store bought to home made. Once again, if you will forgive my braggadocio, I was even more amazed at the results, and you can read about them by clicking HERE.
So, to me, the next logical progression to my puff pastry journey would be to create an original recipe, and justify my ingredients for you “real” cooks to critique.
It is always a dangerous thing to claim any recipe as original. I have never seen this combination of ingredients, combined with this cooking method. So, while it is possible (and actually, considering the number of ingredients, probable that somewhere in the world another cook assembled these ingredients and possibly published them, I am raising my virtual right hand and swearing on a stack of Julia Child cookbooks that to me, this is an original recipe. Since it is my original recipe, I get to name it. If I were writing a boring cookbook, I would indeed name this, Asian Influenced Pork Loin Wellington”. But, I am not, so I get to have a little fun with the name… And so, in honor of my favorite Asian American Poker Playing Actress, I give you…
The name is very logical and makes sense to me…
My two hobbies are poker and cooking. The recipe calls for a couple of main ingredients that are hidden by a beautiful protective shell. Jennifer Tilly also has a couple of almost always hidden assets that she uses to her advantage at the poker table. And finally, the recipe, like Jennifer is much better than you think. Jennifer is one of only a hand full of players (and the only actor) who has won not only a World Series of Poker Bracelet, but also is a World Poker Tour championship. The honor of having a recipe named for her is fitting and well earned.
At this point in the recipe and my postings, I always include a photo of the ingredients (Mise en Place). Unfortunately, The photo did not turn out, so live with this…
1 – 3 pound Pork Loin (one of the hidden ingredients)
1/2 gallon water for brining
1/2 cup of kosher Salt for brining
1/2 cup of Honey for brining
1/2 pound of Spinach (the other hidden ingredient)
1/2 cup finely chopped Pecans
10 cloves of Garlic (minced)
1 Tbs Ginger Molasses (if you can not find ginger molasses, combine 1 Tbs of molasses with 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger… If you do not have molasses, feel free to use honey and ginger. I hate buying ingredients that are rarely used for such a small amount. But once you have ginger molasses, you will use it up, it is that good… but I digress)
1/4 cup Peanut Sauce
2 TBS Chinese 5 Spice
1 Egg for an egg wash
OK… Here’s what I did and why. If any of you real cooks have a comment or critique, I would love to hear it. Before working on this, I did quite a bit of research, and read several recipes. I think I got it right (it tasted and looked as I wanted). But if I lucked into something, and it worked, but for a wrong reason… let me know. I really was making it all up as i went along.
First, Brine your meat. Brining is that little secret that chefs never tell you. It makes pork more succulent and flavorful. Modern pork producers have evolved the pig into a very lean product. If you have ever over cooked a pork chop to the hockey puck stage, you know that there is not much margin for error between cooked and dried out. Brining will increase that margin drastically, while at the same time add flavor.Brining is VERY easy.
Take 1 cup of the water, and get it boiling. Add the honey and salt and stir till dissolved. Add the cold water and remove from heat. Place the pork in a non reactive container, and add the water. If need be, add more water til the pork is completely covered. Place the whole container in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, but no more than 12. Rinse the pork twice before proceeding to the next step. Pat dry with paper towels.
Next, get your hands dirty. You are adding a wet rub to the pork. The key word… it’s a RUB, not a drizzle. Take the peanut sauce. And rub all over the loin. Next, apply the 5 spice to the loin. Again, rub well, till it is all mixed in with the wet rub.
Next, we combine the pecans, garlic and ginger molasses… Mix well to form a paste. Spread this all over the loin. Keep caking it on as it falls off. Again… USE YOUR HANDS, get dirty. Set this aside, and let it absorb into the meat.
And now it’s time to assemble… While the paste is marinating into the wet rub and the wet rub is spicing the pork, lay out your puffed pastry. roll it out until it is wide enough and long enough to roll around the pork loin. Lay out the raw but washed spinach, and then lay the pork loin on top of the spinach. Push the spinach all up under the loin as much as you can. When you roll up the pastry, you do not want any of the spinach on the top (which will be the bottom when you cook).
Roll the pastry up over the loin and seal as best you can. Everything nice and tight, with a double layer of the pastry on the bottom (actually the top, til you turn it over… make sense???) so that it can soak up the juices and still retain it’s shape and integrity.
Take your egg wash and help keep everything sealed up by painting the egg over the seal. And now, it is time to flip it over, so the smooth side with all the spinach is now on top, and the side with the edges is on the bottom.
It is now time to decorate. When you rollout the pastry, there are always little bits that stick out. I take a pizza cutter and trim the edges square. I used these to cut out shapes. These are supposed to be elephants from a tiny Noah’s Ark cookie cutter set. When i serve these, I am going to serve a one inch slice, so the elephants were placed so that i can cut the loin and each slice will have an elephant. Paint the entire surface of the pastry with the egg wash, then place the decorations down. When you have them where you want them, add another layer of egg wash over the decorations. Take a knife and put a few holes in the pastry to allow steam to escape. If you don’t, your pastry will split.
I bake this on a sheet of parchment paper at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Actually, I used an instant read meat thermometer, inserted into the niddle to measure the internal temp/ It was 140 degrees… perfect.
I removed from the oven, and put a piece of tin foil over the top, sealed as best I could and worked on a side dish. I made some HARICOT VERT (Green Beans) – Restaurant Quality Vegetable. to serve with them. Those only take 5 minutes, so I made them while the meat was resting. Also, while the meat was cooking, I made a batch of garlic mashed potatoes. when all was ready, I made a presentation plate to take to the table, with the beans on teh bottom and slices of the wellington on top…
It was a HUGE hit. The pork was fork tender, even at the 1 inch thickness. Each bite that contained a bit of the pastry also contained some of the now steamed and cooked spinach! The spinach was flavored with the Asian influenced rub and paste, as was the pork. The crunch of the nuts added a delicious texture, and the peanut sauce/Chinese 5 spice wet rub flavored perfectly. I worked hard on the prep for this recipe. I thought about each ingredient and what it would add to the dish. In the end, it was just as good as I had hoped. Jennifer Tilly should be very proud.
So, all that’s left is to explain what the pastry shell does… First, it makes a dynamite presentation. Very pretty. But as important, it improves the taste of the pork. It forms a shell around the meat so that as the wet rub and the moisture in the paste heats and starts to stem, it acts as a mini pressure cooker to force the aromatic flavors into the meat. Almost every bit of the moisture from the pork and the rub/paste is retained and improves the texture of the pork. Moist, tender and delicious; full of flavors… What pork should be!
Come back next Thursday to see what I amaze myself with next!