By Jessica Roy New England welcomed fall almost immediately this past week, with a beautiful brisk chill replacing the humid days of summer. Sunday was a particularly perfect sunny afternoon, and, as I went for a stroll for the first time wrapped in a sweater in months, the scent of smokey burning wood lightly curled through the air.
As things generally go, I wait for inspiration to whack me in the face (or in this case the nose) and let a flavor craving dictate the recipe writing process.
Smoking food, is not all that difficult as long as you have the proper equipment and space. My cousin has a beautiful custom-built smoker set up in his ample back yard, which makes for a fantastic Thanksgiving experience standing around the smoker, enjoying a seasonal beverage while waiting for the bird to slowly cook through to tender, smoky, fall-off-the-bone perfection.
Unfortunately, living in the city does not provide an option for such spatial luxury (picture the gents of Ladder 8 shutting down my mis en place), so if I want something smoked for dinner, I either have to make a reservation, or harness some creative ingredient magic.
For this recipe, grab some smoked paprika, and a rich smoky beer. Right about now is the time of year when traditional German Rauchbiers (literally "smoke beer") start to appear on liquor store shelves. I've also heard Guinness makes a decent one. The flavor profile is usually malty and rich, which is perfect for our braising liquid.
If you can't find the beer, or prefer to skip it, you can use some liquid smoke stirred into chicken stock for the braising liquid.
Chef's note: You'll need a Dutch oven or similar heavy braising pan for this recipe. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before cooking. Adding cold meat to a hot pan makes for a tougher, drier result.
Smoky Black Pepper Braised Pork
2-2 1/2 lb. trimmed pork loin
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. honey
2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. fine ground kosher salt
1 tsp. smoked paprika
2 cups smokey beer
1 small onion, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rings (keep the sections together)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place the pepper, salt and smoked paprika in a small bowl and toss with your fingers to combine.
Pat the pork loin down with a paper towel to dry off any excess moisture. Rub the pork all over with 1 Tbs. olive oil, and the honey. If honey is firm, microwave for 5-10 seconds to liquefy. Pat the spice rub over the pork so that it is entirely coated.
Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, begin to brown the pork by placing its fattiest side down. Repeat, and brown the pork on all sides. Remove the pork loin from the pan rest on a plate to collect any juices. Place the onion slices flat into the bottom of the Dutch oven, rubbing to collect any brown bits off the pan. Place the pork back into the pan, directly on top of the onion slices. Sprinkle the minced garlic over the top of the pork.
Pour the beer into the pot, all over the pork, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid or foil, and place the whole thing into the oven. Cook for 2 hours at 300 degrees F, or until meat pulls apart easily when poked with a fork.
Remove the pork from the oven, and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before shredding all of the meat with a fork. Stir the meat into all of the pan juices to absorb.
Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/yourpersonalchef.