I hate to open a post on a negative, it’s not my style. Especially, on what is my first proper post of 2010 (hello 2010!). However, here it is: don’t you just HATE January? I mean, really hate it.
I’ve always struggled with January. I feel I need someone to lift the sky. Did someone remove one of the tent poles that was keeping it high off my head? And what have they done to the colour? Where is the light? Why is everything so grim? Someone please put it back to the way it was! I’m getting desperate. Nearly four weeks of it now, and it’s still going on. I feel a little miserable.
I remember as a child hearing about an Irish professional cyclist (yes, you did read right), who spent 6 months abroad over Winter every year, and the remaining 6 months in Ireland. As an adult with a healthy does of realism, I can see now that that was most likely a tax ploy, but as a child I thought: genius! that’s what I am going to do. 6 months away, avoiding those most depressing of months, January and February. I haven’t done this , of course. A part of me still anticipates that I may make it happen. Maybe not 6 months, but next January somewhere other than here, would be seven kinds of wonderful.
As I wander the streets, avoiding the puddles and skidding on occasional ice, damning the snow of early January and damning the sky, shaking my fist at dissolving snowmen, and kids with snowballs, I feel grumpy. I hate feeling grumpy but it won’t go away. I want to kick things. I need to sort it out. I need to lift my mood. I need to eat something comforting with a big, bold and spicy glass of red wine. There’s no money, and lots of time. That means frugal cooking with the occasional treat.
What to eat, what to cook? Slow leisurely cooking yields tender meats and big flavours, and plenty of time for that indulgent glass of wine. Red meats, with red wine, heady sauces, spices. Fresh fish makes a cheerful and bright supper, and I feel healthy and light afterwards. It’s also quick, bonus. The real treat for me recently was pork cooked with milk. Creamy, tender, rich, yielding, it saved me from several hours of looming crankiness, it was luscious.
Now, if you’ve not heard of it, pork cooked in milk is a common Italian dish, Maiale al Latte. I had seen the recipe in one of my River Cafe cookbooks, but the one that really grabbed my attention was a Moro version with added spice, some cinnamon, entitled Lomo con Leche. It also used fresh bay leaves, one of my favourite fragrances, a gorgeous addition to most dishes, and with milk, sublime.
So, I had to try it. Dutifully I went to my butcher, securing a loin as specified by the recipe. I chose just over 1kg, the recipe specifying 1-1.5. Removing the skin and most of the fat, saving this for some crackling which I would have seperately, the ultimate fatty and crispy indulgence with flakes of salt dancing on top.
I chopped some fresh thyme and rubbed it into the joint with sea salt, browning it on all sides, and then sitting snugly in my 20cm Le Creuset pot, I covered it with the milk, added the bay leaves and the cinnamon and let it cook, keeping an eye on the meat, as loin is quite delicate, not having protective fat to keep it moist, it’s easy to overcook.
The recipe said an hour to an hour and a half, for my kg an hour was plenty, almost too much, it’s worth using a meat thermometer to determine when your loin is perfectly cooked at 65° – 70°. I also used less milk, in my 20cm pot, a liter was plenty. I was a little disappointed that the sauce didn’t have the rich caramelised and nutty brown nuggets that theirs had in the photo, however, the taste was terrific, comforting, nurturing, rich. This was a perfect January dish, tearing you instantly away from the tortures of this grim month, and whisking you to a moorish village with heady flavours and colours. Maybe I just had too much wine at that point.
Don’t be put off by the photo, it ain’t pretty but it’s mighty tasty. We had it with greens and potatoes.
The recipe is adapted from the original recipe,taken from The Moro Cookbook by Samantha & Samuel Clark
It supposedly serves 4, but I say 3.
1-1.5 kg boned pork loin, with skin removed
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cinnamon stick
3 fresh bay leaves
1 litre full fat milk
sea salt & black pepper
Trim the pork of excess fat and rub all over with salt, pepper and thyme. Place a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the pork and seal until golden brown on all sides, but not too dark.
Pour off any excess oil, add the cinnamon, bay and milk and bring to a gentle simmer, turning down the heat if necessary. Cook slowly with the lid half off for an hour or so, turning the meat occasionally, or until the meat is cooked through, but still juicy and tender, or until it registers 65° – 70° on your meat thermometer.
The milk should have reduced into caramelised, nutty nuggets, and made a wonderful sauce subtly flavoured with cinnamon and bay. If it needs more time to reduce, remove the meat until the sauce is ready.
Taste and season. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing.