Following instructions is not my strong suit.
Baking can be a problem because of this (as can doing my taxes), but because cooking is more improvisational, I can usually get away with the occasional lapse in focus and fix minor mistakes, as long as I catch them in time. Once the meal is on the table and guests have started to serve themselves? Or after they’ve left and dishes have been washed? Not so much.
I tried out a new recipe (from another favorite cookbook) on a few lucky (read with sarcastic inflection) family friends/guinea pigs last night, and, despite my failure to read the instructions through completely before the prep and during the cooking stages, turned out a fairly tasty Salt-Baked Pork in Adobo with Tangy Cilantro Mojo.
This was my first attempt at baking meat in a salt crust (coarse kosher salt and egg whites), but the technique has been around for ages, the salt locking in moisture and flavor to produce a tender, juicy roast. In theory, you allow it to rest for a few minutes after baking, then crack the crust and remove the meat, like a phoenix emerging from salty ashes.
My reality was a bit different: The crust had just a touch too much liquid (as you can see from the pooling above), so it didn’t harden as well as it should’ve, and salt clung to the meat instead of falling easily away.
Oversight #1: Recipe instructs to wipe the excess from the meat with a paper towel; my eye skipped over “using a paper towel” and went straight to “gently wipe off,” and the knife I used didn’t really do the trick.
Luckily, the accompanying mojo was mouth-puckeringly tart and undersalted, so the combination of the two was just about right. Of course, this might not have been the case if I’d read the recipe correctly.
Oversight #2: Recipe instructs to add ¼ cup of water to the cilantro-garlic-vinegar mixture and pulse to a medium-fine puree, a step that probably would’ve tempered the sauce’s sharp acidity, and one that I skipped entirely. As it was, though, the pork and the mojo played very well together; the extras would make one heck of a tasty sandwich.
The fact that these errors didn’t completely destroy the final dish speaks to the strength of the recipe—it’s a keeper. Next time around, I’ll be sure to pay closer attention.
Salt-Baked Pork in Adobo
From The New Spanish Table, by Anya von Bremzen
We (my mom and I) used tenderloin instead of the prescribed loin roast and cut the cooking time by a few minutes to compensate. It wasn’t quite enough, so the meat was a little more well-done than I like but still not at all dry, which only serves to emphasize the success of the salt-baking technique.
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon hot paprika or cayenne
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
3 tablespoons best-quality white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pork loin (2½ to 3 pounds)
3 cups coarse kosher salt
5 large egg whites, beaten
Tangy Cilantro Mojo (recipe follows), for serving
1. Place the garlic, parsley, oregano, sweet and hot paprikas, peppercorns, vinegar, and olive oil in a mini food processor and process until a coarse paste forms. Place the pork in a glass bowl and rub the spice paste all over it. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 4 to 6 hours. (I used a large Ziploc bag instead.) Let it come to room temperature before baking.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
3. Place the salt and egg whites in a large bowl and stir until evenly moistened. The paste should just hold together. If it doesn’t, sprinkle in a little water.
4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the pork on it. Coat the pork completely with the salt paste. Bake the pork until cooked through, about 35 minutes. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer through the salt crust into the center of the loin; it should register 155°F. If it’s not quite there yet, bake the pork 7 to 10 minutes longer.
5. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let it rest for 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, tap the salt crust to crack it and lift it off in large pieces. Using a paper towel, gently wipe off any excess salt from the meat. Cut the pork into slices and serve with the Tangy Cilantro Mojo.
Tangy Cilantro Mojo
Makes about 1½ cups
Cilantro has one of those flavors that people either love or hate; I fall squarely in the Love camp, and used more than the recipe calls for to give it even more of a punch. For the Haters, parsley would be a decent subsitute.
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
5 medium-size garlic cloves, chopped
1 green serrano pepper, seeded (optional) and chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup best-quality white wine vinegar
1/3 cup light olive oil
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
Place the cilantro, garlic, serrano pepper, oregano, black pepper, vinegar, and olive oil in a blender. Add ¼ cup of water and pulse to a medium-fine puree. Season with salt to taste. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let stand until the flavors develop, about 30 minutes.