Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Italian Milk-Braised Pork Roast with Porcini Mushrooms and Creamy Lemon Polenta

I'm going to jump right in and say that this dinner is one of my personal bests-- and, that this photo doesn't even do it justice. This recipe is right up there with the Osso Bucco with Risotto Milanese that I made for my husband. Coincidentally, these are both Italian dishes made by an Army Brat who was born in Hawaii, whose father was transferred TWICE to Germany (with family in tow) and then finally retired at Ft. Ord, CA.  I've never been to Italy, but it's on my bucket list of countries I hope to visit before I... well, before I'm too old to travel.  I love Italian food. A lot.


I love pasta, of course, but I'm particularly fond of braised dinners and Italian cuisine has no shortage of braised recipes. What makes this recipe so good? It's the milk based sauce, and how it tenderizes the pork.  Swoon.

I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'm just so excited to rave about this recipe-- and to share it with you.  In the February 2014 issue of Cuisine At Home Magazine, I bookmarked this recipe because it sounded so good and I also loved the lemon polenta recipe. Milk-Braised Pork is a regional favorite of Bologna. The ingredients begin with a pork loin roast, whole milk and heavy cream. As the pork cooks into the milk, the milk morphs into a aromatic and nutty sauce. The sauce ... I won't call this gravy,  because there's no flour added. No, no, no. The sauce makes itself as the milk/cream mixture is poured around a pork loin roast and placed into a slow cooker, on low, for two hours.  My slow cooker is a kitchen tool that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves, so I was excited to dig it out of storage and to make this.


We begin with a pork loin roast--(not pork tenderloin or pork shoulder roast), patted dry and seasoned with coarse salt and black pepper.  This roast weighed just under three pounds, which is perfect for our little dinner party of four.  Yes, it's risky to test out a new recipe, for a dinner party.  Fortunately, our dinner guests are more than willing to be my testers, and I had a feeling this recipe was going to be a good one.

What I found intriguing is that the March/April 2014 issue of Cook's Illustrated Magazine also included a recipe for Milk Braised Pork Loin. Decisions, decisions... I trust both recipe sources.  After comparing Cuisine At Home's version, to Cook's Illustrated's version, I leaned more towards CAH, because of the combination of fresh rosemary and sage...

...that thrives in our herb garden.

I also liked CAH's addition of dried porcini mushrooms, to give the sauce more color and depth of flavor. If you are a mushroom expert you might be thinking "these aren't all porcini mushrooms". You would be right. I had a variety bag of dried mushrooms that included porcini and shitake mushrooms. 

I grated the zest of one lemon (plus another one, for the lemon polenta), which wasn't in the Cook's Illustrated recipe. 

I'm not a fan of eating whole anchovies. However, I've learned that anchovies add so much flavor to dishes, and pretty much dissolves when cooked. Nobody can single out the anchovy flavor, either-- including me.  Cuisine at Home adds anchovy paste to this recipe, and I had no doubt that would be an ingredient I was not going to leave out.

Because Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen does a lot of recipe testing, and comes up with some really cool cooking/baking science, I decided to include their addition of baking soda and CAH's addition of red pepper flakes (NOTE: this is 1/4 tsp and it did kick up the sauce. Reduce this is you are sensitive to spice) Per CI Magazine, the baking soda does a pH thing, so the milk doesn't curdle. I'm sold.

Another cooking "science" ingredient from Cook's Illustrated is to add salt pork fat to this recipe.
The reason, according to CI  is, "As the roast cooks, the milk curdles and reduces into an intensely flavorful but unattractive sauce. We minimize curdling and amp up the flavor by adding a touch of fat from rendered salt pork. A small amount of baking soda raises the pH of the sauce to conditions more favorable for Maillard browning, a series of reactions that create flavorful aromatic compounds."  I didn't want a curdled milk sauce, so I incorporated CI's step of rendering the salt pork fat in water until it evaporated. The salt pork is discarded and the small amount of fat is use to sear the pork.

With the kitchen vent on high, I seared each side for 3-4 minutes...

...though I did add a little olive oil and unsalted butter, because there wasn't a lot of salt pork fat. The pan was deglazed with white wine to scrape up all the tasty brown bits.

The seared pork loin roast is placed into the slow cooker, that I had already set to "low" to preheat it.

To that whole milk is added, heavy cream, lemon zest, baking soda, red pepper flakes, anchovy paste, garlic...

...and the chopped dried mushrooms-- which is simmered for a few minutes.

The milk sauce is poured around the pork loin roast and the fresh sage and rosemary (tied with string) is submerged into the milk. The lid goes on and I say a prayer that in two hours, this will reach 145F.
It took about 30 minutes for all the prep work and searing,  but all I have to do is tidy up the kitchen and relax a bit.

It's 5:00, and our guests have arrived. I'm calm and have measured out the ingredients for the polenta-- low-sodium chicken broth and buttermilk-- into a pot. I've measured out 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and two tablespoons of unsalted butter.  We enjoy some lite appetizers and about 5:30 I check on the pork.

As I lift the lid, the aroma makes me really hungry. I insert an instant read thermometer and it's exactly 145F. Amen! So, I remove the pork onto a carving board, loosely tent it with foil and fish out the herb garni and toss it. The sauce looks thickened and I taste it. Yum!

I used an immersion blender to puree the milk sauce, while the chicken broth/buttermilk mixture comes to boil. Of course you can use a blender, but I think this is much easier.


We love polenta, and I find that common yellow corn meal works just fine. This recipe uses one cup of yellow corn meal, to four cups of liquid, that I add to the boiling broth/buttermilk.

The mixture is  whisked, on low heat, for about five minutes.  It's nice and thick, so I remove it from heat and add in the Parmesan cheese, fresh lemon zest, just a small splash of heavy cream and the unsalted butter. Whisk, whisk, whisk...taste.. oh, yum!  I love the lemon! I cover it with a lid, and place it on very low heat...just to keep it warm. My dinner guests are summoned to the table.

This is where "food styling" flies right out the kitchen window.  I'm a perfectionist about timing and presentation.  I had photography visions of plating the entire sliced roast on a lovely serving plate, pouring gravy right along the middle and garnishing it with fresh parsley, a sprig of sage and lemon slices.  I didn't want to keep my guests waiting, so I decided that instead of serving this family style, I'm going to plate each serving.  That means I have to work fast, because I'm also a stickler that I serve my food hot. (Yes, I do heat my plates, just like my Mutti taught me to do.)

I've got to work fast to slice the pork and get it served. Oh my, it's juicy. This photo doesn't show how shiny and moist it was. Please take my word for it.

I've roasted asparagus and added just a touch of lemon juice-- which ties the whole lemon dinner theme together. The colorful garnishes are completely forgotten about, so I can hurry up and take a few snapshots-- and get this served to my dinner guests before it gets cold.

After adding sauce to the four servings, I still had all this sauce left!  I placed it on the table, just in case someone wants extra.  Mangia!  Guten Apetit!  This is where the camera is set down, and we are all gathered at the table to say Grace, and eat. All photography ends, as our guests (and Your Truly) takes a bite of the pork and the polenta.

TASTING NOTES:  There was a moment of silence.  I'd say it was unanimous that the pork and sauce was fantastic! Seriously, I absolutely loved this. The herbs had infused into the sauce, but didn't overpower it. The balance of garlic was perfect.  The color, from the mushrooms, gave a lovely golden color.

Everyone added even more sauce, and we smiled as our Southern Gentleman guest poured a lot more "gravy" over his "grits".    The red pepper flakes definitely left a bit of heat, but everyone said it was just right.  I'm very sensitive to spice, and at first, I wish I had decreased the red pepper by half. In the end, I didn't have to race for antacids.

The lemon polenta was perfect with this dish-- creamy, hot and just the right balance of lemon.   I've never thought to use buttermilk to make polenta, but I plan to do this again.

There is leftover sauce, which I have frozen for another time that I make pork chops. This is not going to waste.  You might wonder if you have to use a slow cooker. According to Cook's Illustrated, the roast with the milk sauce is set in a Dutch Oven and covered and cooked for about 40 minutes at 275F until it reaches 145F.  I liked using the slow cooker, which freed up my oven to make dessert and to roast the asparagus.

If you're a beginner cook, I am confident you can make this.  The prep work takes the most chopping and measuring. The searing takes a little bit of time. But, once you get everything in the slow cooker-- it's smooth sailing.  Enjoy!



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8 comments:

Karyn said...

I am so excited to try your recipe. I've been trying to decide between the C@H and CI recipes,and I think your combination of the two is genius! Thank you so much for testing this out!

Big Dude said...

I’ve never prepared or even eaten milk braised meat (that I know of) and this is now the second recipe I have for it. After seeing the great looking meals you make when you say this is one of your three bests, it just must be tried. I like how you took the best from both recipes.
I’m sure I would have done that same southern gravy thing. Our dinner guests all know that being guinea pigs for new dishes often goes with the invite.

Big Dude said...
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Joanne said...

Well you know I appreciate/love/amfanaticalabout my Italian food! Such a fabulous comfort meal!

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

This is what I call a proper Sunday dinner. Everything looks delicious and you plated it so beautifully. I have never cooked a pork roast this way and can't wait to try it.

Christine said...

This is a fabulous dinner! Gorgeous photos, can't wait to try this on the weekend! Love everything about it!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Oh my gosh. I am just drooling over this meal. My mom used to make a pork roast with milk, but it never looked this good. Then that polenta, with the addition of cream and lemon. Oh my. Pinning for future meals.

gatehouse1 said...

As soon as my Cuisine At Home mag came I made this recipe because it sounded so marvelous for winter, and I had heard of Italian milk-braised pork. As it promised, the recipe is simple and uses simple ingredients, but the result is a complex and superb meal. If you do not cook a lot there are some ingredients that may make you wonder, but just do what you are told and hold your nose and jump. You will be rewarded with an almost effortless dazzler. Definitely impressive company fare! Martha