• Stir It Up:The Christmas feast
     | December 20,2013
    Photo by Brent Herrig

    A pork roast glazed with molasses and balsamic vinegar makes a Christmas-worthy main course. The recipe and photo are from “The Scarpetta Cookbook” by Scott Conant.

    Christmas dinner is a meal enveloped in a glowing haze of nostalgia and tradition. Our collective memory — clouded by Dickensian feasts and carols evoking wassail and figgy pudding — conjures a crystal-and-silver-bedecked table, a veritable “groaning board.” The very idea of producing a meal on this storied day can seem daunting. How to live up to the hype?

    You may not be able to face the prospect of stuffing and roasting another turkey so soon after Thanksgiving. Ham and lamb may feel too much like Easter. Chicken? Too everyday.

    But consider pork. Succulent, savory and not hard to make, roast pork can be the centerpiece of your Christmas table. You can serve it with potatoes (mashed or roasted, white or sweet), some greens, and carrots or beets or other root vegetables. For dessert, a lemon tart or citrus sorbet would be perfect.

    This recipe is from “The Scarpetta Cookbook,” named after one of the restaurants of award-winning chef Scott Conant, who offers traditional and not-so-traditional interpretations of Italian classics. His roast pork recipe was inspired by his father’s New England roots (hence the molasses) and his mother’s Italian heritage (the balsamic vinegar). No matter the origin, the glaze on this hunk of meat makes it, in Conant’s word, irresistible.

    “I mean it,” he writes. “You put a piece of this pork in front of me and I can’t help myself.”

    Christmas hype? You’re up to the challenge. Polish the silver and the crystal, and make this the irresistible centerpiece of your own “groaning board.”

    Molasses and Balsamic-Glazed Slow-Roasted Pork

    Yield: 5 to 8 servings

    Extra-virgin olive oil

    ½ small onion, peeled and quartered

    5 sprigs fresh thyme

    ½ cup balsamic vinegar

    1 cup chicken reduction (see Note 1)

    1 cup unsulfured molasses

    2 tablespoons dry mustard

    Pinch of hot red pepper flakes

    1 (5-bone) pork loin roast, about 4 pounds, chine bones removed (see Note 2)

    Kosher salt

    2 small sprigs fresh rosemary

    2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

    Water as needed

    Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and 1 sprig of thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes to develop the flavors. Add the vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until reduced to about 1/3 cup, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken reduction and continue to cook until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, just a few minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the molasses, mustard and red pepper.

    Set the pork on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. If the pork has its fat cap on, lightly score the fat with a very sharp knife; avoid cutting into the meat. Season the pork lightly all over with salt. Reserve about ½ cup of the molasses mixture for serving, and using a pastry brush, coat the roast with the rest. Let stand for 30 minutes, occasionally brushing the glaze that runs off the meat back over it.

    Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 525 degrees.

    Roast the pork for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. Take the pork out of the oven and carefully add water to the bottom of the pan to keep meat moist as it continues to cook. Top roast with the remaining 4 sprigs of thyme, the rosemary and garlic, and season again lightly with salt. You want to make sure that 10 minutes — the time needed to reduce the oven to the lower temperature — has elapsed before returning the pork to the oven.

    Continue cooking, adding a little more water as needed, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 145 degrees, about two hours. Remove the pork from the oven, tent with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

    Gently heat the reserved molasses mixture.

    Serve the pork as bone-in chops or boneless slices. For the latter, cut the entire loin away from the bones in one piece and then slice across the grain. Brush the chops or slices with the reserved molasses mixture and serve.

    Note 1: Chicken reduction is a concentrated stock. It is time-consuming to make, but you can find a recipe in Conant’s book or online. As a substitute, Conant recommends Glace de Poulet Gold. It is sold in many supermarkets and specialty stores and is available online.

    Note 2: The chine bones are the odd-shaped bones attached to the backbone, which make it very hard to carve and eat the pork chops. Ask the butcher to remove them, but to leave the covering (“fat cap”) on.

    (Recipe from “The Scarpetta Cookbook” by Scott Conant; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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