If you want to tweak your predictable Thanksgiving dinner and turn it into something memorable that your guests will talk about until next year, substitute the typical turkey centerpiece with an elegant pork alternative.
Take for instance herb-crusted pork loin – it’s no muss, no fuss and simply mouthwatering. I got the inspiration for the pork loin dish from Ina Garten’s Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast recipe in “Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That” (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2010), where she rubs a rosemary-sage-thyme-dry mustard mixture over and under the skin of a turkey breast and roasts the meat for about two hours in the oven.
The herb mixture sounded so inviting that I thought I could use it as a crust on a pork loin before roasting it. I also found that the pork takes only an hour and 15 minutes to cook and would satisfy a small Thanksgiving crowd just as nicely.
In case you have any doubts why you should replace the bird and make the other white meat the star, here are some pork pros to consider:
▪ Pork doesn’t require endless hours to defrost if bought frozen.
▪ Covered with a thin but consistent sheet of fat, pork loin turns out juicy and tender after roasting.
▪ Pork gives you the opportunity to be bold, creative and bring something unique, elegant and packed with flavor to your Thanksgiving feast.
▪ It is a cinch to make and cooks in no time, giving you the opportunity to focus and put more effort into the side dishes and dessert.
▪ It is easy to slice and doesn’t involve any messiness or complicated carving.
▪ The delicious pan juices can easily be spooned over the meat and sides, so there is no need for extra work to make gravy.
▪ Your guests will be impressed with seeing a different meat centerpiece than the regular bird.
▪ It works for a small or large crowd.
▪ Leftover slices are delicious cold or heated, nestled between crusty chunks of bread for lunch the following day.
▪ No wine, no problem. This recipe will work just fine with water if you don’t like or have white wine on hand. If you do decide to roast the pork in a wine bath, opt for a wine that you like so you can enjoy the rest of the bottle.
But just in the event you are a die-hard turkey fan, have one the Ina Garten way by rubbing a generous mixture of dry mustard and fresh rosemary, sage and thyme all over and under the skin of a turkey breast. Then roast the meat in a shallow pool of white wine (or water) for about 2 hours until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees.
Herb-Crusted Pork Loin
Criminally easy to whip up, the pork turns out tender and moist. Everything about it is so delicious that you won’t wait until next Thanksgiving to make it again. Adapted from “Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2010)
1 (3 to 3 1/2 pounds) boneless pork loin
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from about 1 lemon
1 cup dry white wine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pat meat dry with paper towels if necessary.
In a small bowl, combine garlic, dry mustard, herbs, salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice to make a paste. Smear paste evenly over the pork. Allow the meat to sit for about 15 minutes at room temperature.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add pork and sear until brown on all sides and a nice crust has formed, about 4 to 5 minutes per side.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of a roasting pan. Transfer pork loin to the roasting pan and place it skin side up. Pour juices and oil from the skillet over the meat. Pour wine into the bottom of the roasting pan. Cover pan with foil.
Roast pork for 1 hour. Remove foil and roast the meat for 15 minutes longer or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest and meatiest areas of the pork, and juices are clear.
When pork is done, transfer meat to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Slice and serve with pan juices spooned over the meat.
Makes 12 to 14 servings.