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A stewy stepping-stone

By the standards of only a few decades ago, I am woefully unfit for marriage. I do not know how to cook a pot roast, or a pork roast, crown roast, standing rib roast, prime rib, slab of ribs, leg of lamb, brisket, beef tenderloin, or, really, most portions of meat larger than a single serving. Not long ago, I would have been laughed out of the kitchen, shooed away by potential mothers-in-law, and shunted off to spinsterdom with my steak knives still unused. Thank goodness I fell in love with a vegetarian.

But nonetheless, there comes a time in every young woman’s life when she must learn how to handle large pieces of meat. I am ready to rest on my laurels where roasted chicken is concerned, and I am confident that I can tackle a turkey—a twenty-pounder, even—but at the advanced age of twenty-seven, I can no longer ignore my ignorance when it comes to big, disembodied pieces of pork, lamb, and beef. Any self-respecting cook needs a good, solid repertoire, and the slow realization that mine is a little dainty suddenly looms very large. No amount of meatballs will do. Larb is for lightweights, and sausage is for sissies. I should be able to cook something substantial, hefty, even hulking, something calling for a carving set and a cutting board strong as a fortress and fitted with a moat.

A girl has got to start somewhere, so I stepped up to the butcher counter and bought a pork tenderloin. This was the stuff to make a wife of me: big, beautiful, and rosy, with a racing stripe of snowy fat running down its side. In fact, it was so impressive that just buying it, I decided, was progress enough for one day. So, with a contented sigh, I brought my large piece of meat back home and, handling it like the lightweight sissy I am, cut it instead into many small pieces. My date with Big Meat could wait. Before barbequed ribs, smoked butt, or Châteaubriand, this girl has found a handy stepping-stone, a stewy one with peppers and onions.

Cooked pork may not be the prettiest of meats, but it makes up in flavor what it lacks in beauty, especially when garlic, rosemary, and anchovies are involved. Sliced into slender strips, tenderloin is tailor-made for this dish, lean but not the slightest bit tough. Given a fast sear and a few minutes’ soak in a sauce both sweet and sour, it cooks quickly to delicate and toothsome. Between the resinous aroma of rosemary and vinegar’s complex tang, the sweet onions and the winy peppers, this is a plate that feels sturdier and far more substantial than the sum of its parts, no steak knives or carving sets necessary. For now, Big Meat can wait. Tomorrow, my vegetarian comes to town.

Quick Braised Pork with Vinegar and Peppers
Adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Weeknight Kitchen newsletter

Lynne Rossetto Kasper is my kind of woman. This dish couldn’t be much easier, and it makes for great leftovers, the kind that get better with each passing day. Be sure to serve it with potatoes, bread, or even polenta for catching all the juices, and try slipping leftovers into a sloppy sandwich with good-quality provolone or bufala mozzarella.

A note about vinegar: the original recipe calls for ½ cup, resulting in a dish that is a bit pungent upon first tasting but that mellows pleasantly by the second day. If you prefer a less bracing flavor, try using ¼ to 1/3 cup instead.

Good-quality olive oil
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 ¼ pounds), cut into ½-inch slices and then into ½-inch strips
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/3-inch strips
1 large yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/3-inch strips
1 medium-hot chile, such as jalapeño, seeded and cut into very thin strips
½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 oil-packed anchovies, rinsed
2 bay leaves
¼ to ½ cup red wine vinegar (see note, above)
¼ cup white wine
½ cup water
4 whole canned tomatoes, drained and cut into ¼-inch slices

Lightly film a large sauté pan or Dutch oven—not nonstick—with olive oil. Place the pan over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, toss the pork with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Put the pork in the pot, and cook, stirring constantly to keep it from sticking too much, until the meat is just seared; it should still be pink inside. Remove the meat from the pan, and set it aside.

With the pan still over medium-high heat, add the peppers, chile, onion, garlic, anchovy, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers and onion soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar, stirring and scraping up any bits of meat stuck to the pan. Cook until the vinegar boils away entirely; then repeat the process with the wine.

When all the wine has cooked away, add the water and tomatoes, and adjust the heat so that the sauce stays at a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes; then add the pork and its juices, stirring to blend. Simmer the meat and sauce for 2-3 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve hot.

Yield: 3-4 servings


Blogger Hageltoast said...

Had my first go at roast beef the other day, it was a success, same sort of cooking times as chicken, and just in case i coated the fat on top with cajun rub which seeped into the meat and gave it a wonderful flavour. I'd put it off for years out of Big Meat fears. :)

2:51 AM, February 16, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

I love this post - made me smile. I feel similarly hamstrung (har, oy) by large meat cookery. Pork tenderloin really is a pretty easy thing to roast (but looks impressive, thereby making people think you really have a way with meat, even if you don't, like me). I made one at the very beginning of my blog existence, using a dry rub from Barbara Kafka's roasting book (which if you haven't read, you should check out - I bet you'd love it). It's hard to screw up a tenderloin, and the best thing about it are all the leftovers... Enjoy having your sweetheart around! ;)

7:16 AM, February 16, 2006  
Anonymous mtb said...

Thanks for this one Molly. The last time i TRIED to cook a pork loin my brother suggested studding it with garlic. All i could think of was an alien slug thingy that lived inside someone on Startrek TNG. Um...jeepers, that was over five years ago. So i am t h inking maybe chopped up into little pieces i could give prok loin another go. Maybe i will just stick with roasted vegetables instead.
Love the roasted cabbage by the way it is my new favorite roasted vegetable other than my old newest favorite raosted green beans.
Love you, love your blog, love your photos, love your stories...tanya

8:41 AM, February 16, 2006  
Blogger Kalyn said...

Just gorgeous. I suspect I'm a *bit* older than you, and I also feel a bit intimidated by these large cuts of meet. It's rather the feeling that we should be handling the meat more that does it for me. This looks wonderful.

9:43 AM, February 16, 2006  
Blogger Tana Butler said...

Best pork tenderloin I ever made: for Slow Pig Blogging Weekend. Ooooh, it was good. And that spice mix lasts: you can keep using it. (I put my extra in a spice jar, and just last night tossed some into the Mexican-styled chicken soup I made.)

Don't say I never gave you anything, ya little whippersnapper. 27, indeed.

3:16 PM, February 16, 2006  
Anonymous Frankenstein said...

"Big Meat" is actually pretty damn easy. Just make sure you have a good thermometer. Season and brown the roast, stick the thermometer in, and shove it in the oven. Then go read a book (or finish that bottle of "cooking" wine) and wait for the thermometer to beeeeeeep.

Take it out, let rest, and then carve. Piece of cake.

8:03 PM, February 16, 2006  
Anonymous hag said...

I hear you sister! I too am woefully unprepared to feed a large group of meat eaters. Though, like you , I do a mean roast chicken. Your post was truely inspiring...mabey now I will have the confidence (without the aid of my mother)to tackle the big meat!
BTW have you heard of Tofurkey?...it's the vegetarian's roast turkey.
Great blog!

11:29 PM, February 16, 2006  
Anonymous zeebleoop said...

ah, meat! now you're talking my language.

i think there is nothing better than the magic trick that is taking a cheap cut of meat and by means of low, slow heat transforming it into a luscious, fall-apart-tender meal.

and don't even get me started on barbeque - heaven!

9:16 AM, February 17, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Hageltoast, your roast sounds dreamy! Anything that can be described using the words "fat" and "seeped into the meat" gets a hearty nod from me. Must roast beef, must roast beef...

Luisa, I thought of you when I was writing this! I know, roasted pork tenderloin is certainly not a complicated thing to cook, but somehow, I still let myself be wooed away by Lynne Rossetto Kasper's more dainty preparation. I'll trade up now, though, for Barbara Kafka. If you can conquer a slab of raw pork belly, by god, I can take down a tenderloin. Oh, and speaking of that pork belly, how is your bacon supply coming along?

Tanya, my dear, you are too sweet! And yes, you must give pork tenderloin another go. Banish all thoughts of its slug-like shape: just remind yourself of how fantastically tender it will be, this lovely little-worked muscle!

Kalyn, I'm relieved to know that I'm not alone in my Big Meat fears. I conquered my slight queasiness over handling raw meat when I first started roasting chickens, but now I think my trepidation comes mainly from a sense of not knowing, frankly, how to best cook the stuff. I think it's a matter of knowledge - or lack thereof. I need to spend more time reading about different cuts, really, and just playing with different meats and techniques. In the meantime, though, more pork with vinegar and peppers!

Tana, who are you calling a whippersnapper, hmm? I don't think I've been called that since my grade-school music teacher - the raven-haired Mrs. Havens - threatened to send me to the headmistress's office for talking to my neighbor during "The Button Song." But nonetheless, thank you, thank you, thank you! Your pork tenderloin looks outrageously good. It's officially on the "to do" list...

Frankenstein, I know, I know. I will take your advice to heart, especially where the "cooking" wine is concerned!

Hag, go after that Big Meat! Fear no more, I say! But as for that Tofurkey, I don't know...I think fear is actually warranted there. I'm sure that it more than satisfies for some, but it only makes me shudder. Thankfully, Brandon (a.k.a. "my vegetarian") feels the same way...

Zeebleoop, now you're speaking my language! Your description alone makes my mouth water...

1:15 PM, February 17, 2006  
Blogger Dawna said...

Pork tenderloin is just the thing! No matter how you treat it - braise, roast, stir-fry, it is always tasty and tender and confidence-building. When you're ready to take the plunge into Big Meat, I recommend roasting a boneless leg of lamb - impossible not to love!

11:22 AM, February 19, 2006  
Blogger farmgirl said...

It doesn't matter one bit what you write about--it's always such a pleasure to read your words. Fortunately for us, your subjects happen to always be delicious. : )

5:37 AM, February 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly - The probe thermometer is your best friend. Alton Brown, Cooks Illustrated or Barb Kafka's Roasting will be all the instruction you will need to tackle anything along these lines.

9:29 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Dawna, thank you for the sage advice. But now, what to do? The indecision is crippling! Pork tenderloin? Or boneless leg of lamb? Or both? Oh my.

Aww, farmgirl, thank you.

And yes, Anonymous, I believe in the power of Alton Brown. And since I've had a probe thermometer at the ready for over a year now, really, I have no excuse. Onward I go...

4:17 PM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Harry said...

Sounds like you need this book:


It's very good.

2:34 AM, February 26, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Terrific suggestion, Harry. I read somewhere recently about The River Cottage Meat Book and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but then I promptly forgot about the whole thing. I won't make the same mistake twice. Thank you.

10:03 PM, March 01, 2006  
Anonymous mj said...

That's exactly how I feel about large cuts of meat! I've mastered the roast chicken and buy boneless chuck roasts for the crock pot, but now I'm stuck. My friends laugh when I say the only cooking class I want is one where they'll teach me something new about roast lamb.

10:12 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Scorpio said...

My first mother-in-law was the best big-meat and game-meat cook I ever knew. She would do a whole tenderloin for 45 min at like 400 degrees and it would be medium rare when she brought it out. That astonished me.

2:50 PM, March 26, 2006  

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