It was the last nice weekend of November and the first full day of daylight savings time. When we drove out to the Amish woodworking shop to pick up firewood, I remember saying, “This might just be the last of these sunny days.” And their reply, “You mean, the sun won’t ever come back again?”
So on short notice, we planned a get-together with our friends. We have traded meals back and forth for numerous years and it was definitely our turn to host.
With the sunny weather in the forecast, we decided to stoke up the wood-fired oven in the backyard. As I always do, I planned out my menu, organizing the details of when to prepare each step. I learned this trick early on from my mother, watching her as she hosted from one to fifty or more people.
After buying a boneless pork loin at the Goshen Farmers’ Market as the centerpiece, it was easy to fill in the rest of the menu: cheeses, prosciutto, almonds, pickled beets and bread for starters, fall vegetables and sweet potato croquettes roasted in the wood-fired oven to go with the loin, and the last apple dumplings of the season.
To make things more interesting, I would make the loin in a salt crust and Jim would attempt to bake it in the wood-fired oven.
As it turns out, it is a beautiful sunny fall day, clear and crisp. With Stella the dog in tow, we circle Fidler’s Pond and catch up on each other’s lives before driving back to the house and the oven where the perfect bed of coals is waiting. I set out the starters and go to work on the salt crust, as Jacque watches.
First, a nice bed of rock salt covered with leek leaves. Then, a salt paste base on which I spread some fresh basil, fresh rosemary and garlic. Next comes the pork loin, which has been marinating for several hours. Another layer of fresh herbs and all of it covered in more salt paste.
Then the moment of truth: will the oven do its job and bake that salt to a crust? Why, yes. Yes, it will. Forty minutes later, out comes the loin. I break into the salt crust and the aroma is released. The pork loin seems to have loved it. So do we.
The conversation continues, the eating does as well. We top it off with the dumplings and all of a sudden, it’s dark outside and it’s time to say our goodbyes.
This, then, is it. Interesting and delicious food coupled with long term friendship — it is a lifelong love affair that never grows old. Each get-together holds its own charm and creates a lasting memory. When will you have your next gathering?
Here is the recipe I used for the salt encrusted pork loin. The dumpling and the sweet potato croquette recipes are in my previous columns.
Salt Encrusted Pork Loin
Makes 4 servings.
- 1 pork tenderloin, 2 to 3 lbs.
For the marinade:
- ¼ cup grated onion
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- ½ cup olive oil
- fresh ground pepper
For the baking:
- Leek leaves from 2 leeks (the upper green part)
- 6 stems of rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic, slivered
- 8 basil leaves
- 3 lbs. Kosher salt
- ¼ cup water
- rock salt
- Two hours before, combine the oil, onion, 2 cloves of crushed garlic and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a large plastic bag.
- Add the roast and coat it thoroughly with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator for an hour, then set out at room temperature while you get the following ready.
Salting the pork:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a shallow roasting pan with aluminum foil and lay in a shallow bed of rock salt. Layer clean leek leaves onto the salt bed.
- Combine Kosher salt with 3 tbsp. of water to form a thick paste, a little like wet sand. Add more water as needed to make a workable paste.
- Take this paste and form into a rectangle larger than the pork roast on the leek leaves. Layer 3 stems of rosemary, 4 leaves of basil and 2 cloves of garlic slivered onto the salt paste.
- Remove the roast from the marinade bag and place it on the salt bed. Layer remaining rosemary, basil, and slivered garlic cloves onto the pork roast.
- Take the remaining salt paste and spread it on the meat to seal it well. Fill the pan with remaining rock salt to surround the meat.
- Cook for 15 minutes per pound, turning the pan 180 degrees halfway through the cooking time. When the cooking time is reached, use a meat thermometer to check the inner temperature of the roast and make sure it is at 145 degrees before removing from the oven.
- Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and discard the salt crust. Allow to stand for 5 more minutes. Cut into slices.