Fennel-Brined Pork Loin

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Fennel-Brined Pork LoinA whole center-cut pork loin, which is large, cylindrical, and has a fat cap, is a beautiful cut (see photo; not to be confused with a long, skinny tenderloin). It’s also quite practical for dinner parties because you can cook the whole thing ahead of time, then present it tableside to stunning effect. You will need to plan ahead, however, as the pork needs to brine for 24 to 30 hours. I use this same fennel brine at Beast for a variety of cuts because it has a complex and lovely flavor.
Pork loin is fairly lean, so it can dry out in the oven. That’s why the brine, which contributes both moisture and another layer of flavor, is essential. Using a pork loin to learn how to properly prepare and rest roast is a delicious and less expensive option than beef. Make sure your side dishes are served nice and hot, but remember, the pork should be only warm when you serve it. If it is hot, it has not rested long enough.

  • Yield: 6 to 8 Servings

Ingredients

BRINE
  • 4 juniper berries
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 4 fresh or 8 dried bay leaves
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • ½ bunch thyme
  • 8 cups water
  • ¾ cup salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 pounds ice, or 8 cups cold water (see weighing ice
  • for wet brines)
PORK LOIN
  • 1 (4- to 5-pound) boneless pork loin (not tenderloin),
  • trimmed of silver skin
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
How to Make It
  1. MAKE THE BRINE In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast all of the spices except the bay leaves. Cut a 1-foot square of cheesecloth and fold it over once. Place the spices, bay leaves, garlic, and thyme in the middle of the cloth, gently roll it lengthwise into a small sachet, and tie both ends with kitchen twine (like a wrapped candy).
  2. In an 8-quart stockpot, combine the water, salt, sugar, and sachet and bring to a boil. When the salt and sugar have dissolved, turn down the heat slightly and simmer until the water is flavored with the aromatics, about 20 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil rapidly or the water will reduce and the mixture will become too salty. Remove the pot from the heat and add the ice to dilute the brine and cool it to room temperature.
  3. MAKE THE PORK LOIN Trim the fat cap of the pork loin between ⅛ and ¼ inch thick if necessary. Score the fat cap in a crosshatch pattern ¼ inch wide (and very shallowly, cutting only through the fat and avoiding the flesh; see the photo). Place the pork loin in a deep casserole dish or Dutch oven and add the brine to cover completely. (Cut the loin in half crosswise if it doesn’t fit in the dish.) Place a piece of parchment paper over the top and weight it down with a plate to keep the loin submerged. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 30 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a shallow baking dish with the thyme.
  5. Remove the pork from the brine, place it on several layers of paper towels, and dry well; discard the brine. Tie the pork loin with kitchen twine (see photos), then season with the salt and pepper.
  6. Heat a black steel pan over high heat until very hot. Add the oil and heat until the surface is rippling but not smoking. Place the pork, fat side down, in the pan and sear, pressing down with tongs and rotating every 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown all around. Add the butter, turn off the heat, and once the butter has melted, spoon it over the pork 4 or 5 times to baste the meat.
  7. Place the pan in the oven. After 10 minutes, flip the pork and use a spoon to baste it with some of the melted butter.
  8. Continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 120°F, 5 to 7 minutes (depending on the thickness of the roast). Remove the pan from the oven, then remove the pork from the pan, placing it on top of the thyme in the baking dish. Allow the loin to rest, loosely tented with aluminum foil (not tightly wrapped or it will continue to cook), for a minimum of 20 minutes and up to 30 minutes before slicing.
  9. To serve with Crispy Baby Artichokes and Hazelnut Romesco as shown (see photo), make the romesco up to 3 days in advance but let it stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving. Pare the artichokes and hold them in water with lemon juice up to 8 hours in advance, then parcook them up to 4 hours in advance. Sear the artichokes while the pork is resting so you can serve them hot.
  10. Snip the twine on the pork and cut the pork loin across the grain at 1½-inch intervals. Spoon about ¼ cup of romesco onto each plate, place the pork on top, and divide the artichokes evenly among the plates. Garnish with the herb salad.
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