Saturday, June 9, 2012

Oliver Cromwell and Berkshire Pork

Recently a friend wondered why I don't post more about grilled pork as he is a big fan of pork chops and the like on the grill.  You might think I don't cover this much because outside of a high heat searing and finishing over medium heat, there isn't much expertise required for chops on the grill.  But the truth is, finding really good pork to cook on the grill is not easy to do, even here in the midwest.  Oh you can find all sizes and cuts of pork for the grill, but most of it is a very light pink color that is low in fat, low in pH and produces a bland, dry dinner.  So while I love a good pork chop on the grill, unless I can get my hands on premium pork, I don't generally bother, sticking instead to other pork recipes, as shown below for Grilled Stuffed Pork Tenderloin. 

My favorite pork comes from a breed of pig call "Berkshire" which are black in color.  Berkshire pigs are said to be Britain's oldest pig breed, originally bred around the market-towns of Faringdon and Wantage, in the Vale of the White Horse which was then in the English county of Berkshire.

Cromwell on his Farm
by Ford Madox Brown
The story of their 'discovery' is attributed to Oliver Cromwell, one of only two commoners ever to head England, who while wintering with his troops in the shire of Berk in the 1640s, found this succulent treat.  Here they were introduced to the taste of a unique black pig with white spots on its legs, ears and snout. The reputation of Berkshire pork was born when Cromwell’s soldiers returned home with stories of remarkable flavor and quality. For years after, England’s royal family dined on Berkshire pork from a special herd maintained at Windsor Castle.  Today's animals descend from the herd maintained by the Monarchy for 300 years.

Eventually American pork producers imported Berkshire pigs for the U.S. market. During the 1940s and 1950s, Berkshires won more top championships for quality pork than any other breed before or since.  Unfortunately modern agriculture ushered in mass production techniques to produce uniform pork products. Over the years, the number of Berkshire shrank to less than 1 percent of America's total swineherd, which is why getting your hands on a quality Berkshire chop, roast or tenderloin is exceedingly difficult.

Three prize pigs bred by Prince Albert
at Windsor Castle by H. Stafford 1829-1843
Berkshire pork is prized for it juiciness, flavor and tenderness. Its higher fat content makes it suitable for high-temperature grill cooking, unlike most pork you find at the supermarket which even advertises itself as 'the other white meat.' (We all know how well white brease chicken meat does over a high-heat grill.)   Now finding Berkshire pork is one thing, paying for it is another.  It's typically two to three times the price of regular pork.  But if you can't find or afford it, at least make sure that the pork you do purchase is a rich red color when compared to other similar cuts.  This will be your indication of a higher pH level and thus a more tender, flavorful meat.

And if all of the chops are a pinky-white color, consider a different cut, such as the tenderloin.  Now I know you are going to say that too can be such a dry cut of flavorless meat unless you marinate it (or buy it this way) and I agee with you.  However if your butcher has a fresh, crimson tenderloin on hand, consider stuffing it and then grilling it, as shown here.  Even a lower-quality piece of fresh (not previously frozen) tenderloin will do well in this recipe.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Stuffing

One single fresh tenderloin (about 1 1/2 pounds) is used in this recipe and feeds four. Be careful of vacum packs, as they often contain two or more tenderloins strung together and the meat is not particularly fresh.  Avoid these if at all possible.  With regard to the stuffing, I use olives and sun dried tomatoes to stuff the pork in this recipe, but you can really use any stuffing of your choice that isn't too bulky. You may do all of the preparations well in advance, even the day before if necessary.

Outer Seasoning
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar (dark preferred)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 sun-dried tomatoes (rinsed of oil and chopped)
4 anchovy fillets in oil
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
dahs of pepper
1/2 cup fresh baby spinach leaves

Add all of the above except the pepper to your food processor.  Pulse 10-15 times until well chopped.  Season with a dash of pepper.  As the kalamata olives are somewhat salty, no additional salt is necessry in the stuffing.  The spinach leaves will be laid on top of the stuffing as noted in the recipe.

Cut the tenderloin in half horizontally, stopping about 1/2 inch from the edge so the halves remain attached.  Lay the tenderloin open and cover with plastic wrap.  Pound the tenderloin into a rectangular shape about 1/4-inch in thickness.  Remove plastic wrap and trim any odd edges.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and spread the stuffing over all but the top 2 inches of the tenderloin, then cover with baby spinach.  Roll the tenderloin away from you being careful to keep in all of the stuffing, creating a tight cylinder.  With the seam side facing down, tie the pork tenderloin with five pieces of butchers twine, evenlyl spaced as shown.  Refrigerate until ready for grilling.

Heat the grill to high heat and clean the grates as usual.  Lightly oil the stuffed pork tenderloin and sprinkle evenly with the outer seasoning (brown sugar mixture).  Leaving one burner on high, turn off all other burners and place the tenderloin over the unlit burners. (If using a charcoal grill, place coals only on one side of the grill.)   Turn after 15 minutes, and cook another 15 minutes, or until the meat reaches 140-150F.  Cook with the grill closed and ensure the grill maintains a cooking temperature of 350-375F.  If the temperature does not quickly return to 350F after turning, light additional burners on low.

Transfer tenderloin to a cuttting board and let rest, loosely tented with foil, for about 10 minutes.  Remove the twine and slice into 1/2 inch thick servings.  Pour any clear drippings from the cutting board onto the roulades of pork.   If you prefer a sauce, consider a light mushroom sauce, which goes nicely with the pork.  However, these pork roulades will be juicy and flavorful without a sauce.  This recipe also works just as well in your oven during the fall and winter seasons.

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