We've certainly extolled the virtues of pork loin before. It's delicious, quick, simple and, above all, versatile.
While we love a savory pork loin, there's something about pairing pork with something sweet that is just so comforting and, to us, so deliciously wintry. (Which is why we waited until now to try this recipe from the September 2008 issue of Everyday Food.)
And on a recent chilly night, this Pork Loin with Figs and Port Sauce proved to be a tasty midweek dinner. But more than that, this recipe let us in on a great little cooking secret that we're definitely going to return to again and again.
This recipe couldn't be much simpler. Pork's always easy and the fig and port sauce was a cinch as well -- the most complicated thing was dicing a shallot, and there's more than enough time to make the sauce while the meat is resting.
The dish actually reminded us a lot of one of the more delicious and memorable meals we cooked in 2008: Lamb Chops with Dried Cherries and Port.
But there was one key difference that made us prefer that lamb to this pork: Balance. With the lamb, the gamy meat paired beautifully with the sweet port sauce, which is tempered by sour cherries, balsamic vinegar and cardamom.
In this recipe, though, there's nothing to balance the sweetness. Pork already tends to taste a little bit sweet to us (and at any rate, it's certainly not what you'd call "gamy" or "hefty"). And there's nothing in this sauce to temper the sweetness. Don't get us wrong: It was tasty. It just came off a little bit like, well, pork with jelly on top of it. Sweet, but almost sickly so.
If we make this again, we'll add something -- rosemary, balsamic, thyme, maybe chili pepper? -- just to tone down the sweetness a little.
So what's the big cooking secret we learned from this recipe? It's in the sauce. Sure, this turned out to be sweeter than we wanted. But the secret is this: both this pork loin recipe and the Lamb Chops with Dried Cherries and Port dish use the same basic sauce. Olive oil, a shallot, a thickener (jam, flour, etc.), a sweet fruit and (ideally) something to balance that sweetness.
Armed with that super basic plan, you could adapt this port sauce for just about any fruit -- figs, grapes, cherries, cranberries, apples, apricots (?), etc.
And that's really good to know: We'll certainly come back to this great sauce roadmap in the future.
Prep: 20 minutes
Total: 50 minutes
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin
* Coarse salt and ground pepper
* 1 shallot, diced
* 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
* 1 cup port wine
* 1/2 pound ripe fresh figs (about 8), stemmed and halved
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Generously season pork with salt and pepper; brown on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat. Transfer skillet to oven, and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of pork registers 145 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer pork to a plate; tent loosely with aluminum foil (reserve skillet).
2. Place skillet over medium heat; add shallot, and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add flour; cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in port; cook until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Add figs; cook until warmed through, about 1 minute (adjust consistency of sauce with water if needed). Slice pork, and serve with figs and port sauce.