Joyeux Noël à tous! Ok, I’m a little late, but I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and/or a very happy Holiday season. I am sharing the grand finale of our three course Christmas dinner – the main plate – a maple-brined pork roast. My husband had been asking for me to cook him a roast, and after our great results brining over Thanksgiving we both decided we needed to brine again – though this time we went with pork instead of poultry. Pork lends itself to brining very well, and pairs especially with sweeter flavors, so I got to use one of my favorite flavors ever (which I owe to growing up in beautiful New England) – maple syrup
This was not my first Christmas thousands of miles apart from my family and friends, but it was our first Christmas together while thousands of miles apart from our family and friends after moving to Suisse and living en Europe. So far, each holiday I’ve spent “abroad” has brought with it its own share of adventures, but this time was different because my darling husband was with me. However, the time leading up to Christmas it was still difficult to distract ourselves from the thought of not spending a holiday filled with what should be long-standing traditions with family.
We didn’t feel like moping about in our home though, so decided to make a different sort of Christmas – one that would allow us to take advantage of our awesome location and ability to see new cultures with just a quick short trip. The idea that such different ways of life exist in such a small space is a totally exotic concept to us as Americans. While there are differences in cultures and heritage among regions of the U.S., most everyone speaks the same language or two, and one can easily find the same stores, the same restaurants, the same patterns of what to expect when arriving at a new city. Here, however, all it takes is one short little train ride and we are in a totally different country, totally new to us language, new architecture, and a city that has no cars, just boats speeding through narrow canal-ways that divide up the island that is Venezia.
So we had a slightly different (and still adventurous – more detail and photos to come!) holiday this year – which is why we made sure to enjoy our homemade Christmas dinner a full week before – afterall, these traditions must still happen sometime, and nothing is more romantic than a cozy evening for two watching the snow fall enjoying a three course meal made with love
Adapted from Bon Appétit Oct 2009, seen on Epicurious
Prep time: 10min to prep brine ingredients
Total Time: 9 hours for brining, roasting, everything
For the Brine:
2 cups water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
a bunch of sage
sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
a cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 cups ice water
For the Rest:
2.5 lb pork roast (your favorite lean cut)
4 strips thick cut bacon
2 onions, chopped
1 apple, chopped
2 tbs. dijon mustard
2 tbs. maple syrup
a couple sprigs of thyme and sage
1. Combine the room temperature water, salt, maple syrup, and flavoring ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves. Then remove from heat and stir in ice water. Essentially this will extract nice flavors from the spices by applying heat, and then we are immediately cooling it down so it can be a safe brine. If 2 cups of ice water is not enough to cool your brine completely, add in a little more ice, stirring. Alternatively you can let it cool in the fridge and wait to add your meat to the brine until it is cooled enough. In general, I’m a big fan of the add ice-water method because it’s fastest.
2. Place your roast into a large sealable bag (I like gallon sized zip and lock bags, but there are specific brining bags you can get as well) or other sealable container and pour the brine over the meat. Make sure the meat is completely covered. Weigh it down with something heavy (like a pan lid) if you need to to keep it submerged).
3. Brine your meat according to its size in the refrigerator. As this is a fairly strong brine and we did not have a large roast, we left ours about 6 hours. A larger roast you could leave in longer.
4. About an hour before you are ready to cook, remove the roast from the brine and rinse it off. Let it come to room temperature and discard the brine. Place the roast in the pan you are going to cook it in.
5. Fry the bacon in a skillet until crispy or how you like it – it really doesn’t matter. The goal here is to get 2 tbs. of rendered bacon fat to use in the glaze. Preheat the oven to 350F.
6. Add the apples and onions around the roast.
7. Mix together the glaze, stirring in the 2 tbs. bacon fat, mustard, and maple syrup. Pour about half over the pork roast and add thyme and sage on top, and bake the roast for a couple hours or until the meat reaches 140F. However, about an hour in you will want to add more glaze on top of the pork. The sweet glaze will caramelize nicely while roasting.
8. When meat is fully cooked, take out of the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy!