Greek food charms us by its simplicity, but there are exceptions. Here’s a rich-tasting yet modern northern Greek pork loin dish, hrino langada, filled with wonderful warm, sweet tones of caramelized yellow raisins, figs, and walnuts, served under a sauce highlighted with a last minute splash of glyko, a syrupy sweet vinegar. You can substitute balsamic or sherry vinegar, or any of the new stylish vinegars, such as currant or fig.
Brining a boneless pork loin guarantees a juicy flavorful roast. The meat is browned, oven-roasted at a medium-low temperature, then left to rest before a final glazing in the syrupy sauce. Begin two to three days in advance by brining the pork and making the fruit compote.—Paula Wolfert
For the fruit compote
2 cups mixed dried fruits (yellow raisins, figs, apricots, and prunes)
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon bruised peppercorns
1 cup sweet white wine, such as orange Muscat or sauternes
Juice of 1/2 lemon
For the pot roast
1/4 cup sea salt or kosher salt dissolved in 1 cup hot water
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 boneless pork loin (4 pounds) with a thin layer of fat left intact, preferably center cut
6 garlic cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
Flour, for dusting
12 green grapes, preferably Muscat
Fall Fruit Compote (recipe above)
1 tablespoon fruit-flavored vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Make the compote
1. In a small bowl, mix the dried fruits, walnuts, orange zest, star anise, cinnamon stick, and peppercorns. Add the wine and lemon juice, cover, and let soak for up to 2 days in a cool place or in the refrigerator.
2. Transfer the fruits in the soaking liquid to a non-reactive saucepan set over low heat and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain the fruits, reserving the liquid for use in Step 7 below. Discard the whole spices. Cut the fruits into 1/2-inch dice. Set aside until needed.
Make the pot roast
1. In large glass or plastic container, combine the dissolved salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and 3 cups cold water. Add the pork, cover or seal, and let marinate in the brine for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
2. About 4 hours before serving, drain the pork loin; discard the brine. Wipe the meat to remove excess moisture. Crush the garlic with a pinch each salt and pepper. Mix with 1 tablespoon of the orange zest and 1 teaspoon water to make a paste. Make deep slits all over the pork; press the garlic paste into the slits. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
4. Heat the oil in a shallow enameled cast-iron roasting pan or gratin dish over medium-high heat. Dust the pork with flour, shaking off excess. When the oil starts to sizzle lightly, add the pork and cook, turning, until the roast is brown all over, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
5. Add 1/4 cup water and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Scatter the green grapes on the bottom. Set the pork, fat side up, on top. Place in the oven to cook for 45 minutes.
6. Turn the pork loin over and continue to roast, uncovered, until the internal temperature registers 145°F (63°C), about 15 minutes. Remove the pork loin, cover with foil, and let rest at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
7. Skim the fat from the liquid in the pan. Set over medium-high heat, add the juices from the fruit compote, and boil until they start to thicken and shine, about 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Pour all but 2 tablespoons sauce into a bowl. Add the fruits from the compote to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until they lightly caramelize. Return the pork to the pan, turn to coat with the syrupy juices, and cook over medium-low heat until completely reheated, about 15 minutes. The internal temperature should be 150° to 155°F (65°C).
8. Lift the pork loin out of the pan, allowing excess sauce to drip back into the pan. Thinly slice and arrange the pork over the fruits. Dribble the sauce over the pork and scatter the remaining 1/2 teaspoon orange zest and the parsley on top. Serve at once.
Recipe © 2003 Paula Wolfert. All rights reserved.