While many folks celebrated the last of 2010 in the streets of Mobile waiting for the new Moon Pie orb to drop, in bars and clubs drowning out the gloom of a rainy night or in a fancy restaurant eating the last meal of the year, I chose to celebrate at home with family and friends. To end a year and start anew with loved ones is cherished comfort for me.
I decided to serve what for many is a traditional Christmas Day meal, but to me, it was more of a homage to a year of bounty, as in giving and sharing the comfortable fruit filled pork roast, or crown roast as it is presented, with a few simple sides like sweet potato & sausage dressing, baby green butter beans in cream, an asparagus gratin and tiny parsley new potatoes. Simple in thought but it turned out to be a feast as everyone really made too much over my efforts (although it is always nice to receive gracious comments) and by the time dessert came, everyone was stuffed. But we manage to put that away too.
A crown roast is nothing more than a pork loin rack from the rib portion of the loin and is the meatiest rib section, also I think the tastiest. The rack is cut to form a circle with the loin part being inside the bottom of the crown and the tips of each rib are 'frenched' by cutting away the meat as to create a handle of sorts or the tips of the crown. Covering the ends in foil will keep them from becoming charred during the roasting time and the foil is removed at serving time, sometimes replaced by paper frills or tiny chef hats.
I started marinating the racks, it took two to get the number of chops needed (20), a couple of days ago in a brine very similar to the one I used on my Christmas Day smoked turkey breast. The orangery sweet vinegar brine is perfect for pork. Many folks fill the center with a stuffing of breads and fruit, but I chose all fruit instead. Dried apricots and plums soaked all day in brandy and orange liqueur, seasoned with spices and before roasting, I added apples and satsumas to the mix. As you can see in the next photo, the juices from the fruits and the roast created a wonderful orange glaze that would have been great as a sauce, but I had already made a roasted mushroom sauce.
Now, here's how I cooked my roast:
Orange Brine Crown Roast with Brandied Fruits
whole loin of pork with ribs, 10-12 ribs average per rack
olive oil, salt & pepper
The easiest thing to do is to have your butcher prepare the rack(s) for you but you can certainly do it yourself. Purchase whole pork loins with ribs attached. Your butcher will be glad to point you in the right direction. With the rib side facing up, slice with a sharp knife between each rib just enough to allow the roast to bend. Be sure to leave a good layer of fat on the rib side to keep the loin moist during roasting, you can cut it away before serving if needed. Do not cut into the loin part at the bottom of the ribs. The rack should bend and form a circle easily but you will be able to tell where additional cuts are necessary. Trim the meat from the tip of each rib, about an inch down and cover with a square of foil. This will prevent the end bone from charring.
Make the marinade and place the loin in a large sealable bag with the brine. Flip the bag over every 12 hours or so and refrigerate for about 2 days.
Remove the rack from the marinade, pat dry and rub all over with olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Form the crown and with kitchen twine, tie the roast just under the rib and again toward the bottom of the loin. Place in a large roaster or pan and let rest for about an hour to reach room temperature.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. with the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.
Fill cavity with the soaked fruits. I placed a few pats of butter on the fruits.
Place pan in the oven and turn temperature to 325 degrees F. Roast until internal temperature of the meatiest part of the loin reaches 145 degrees F. Remove from oven and cover with foil, residual cooking should rise to about 150 degrees.
Carefully plate to a large serving platter using a wide spatula to move the fruit filling with the roast. Cut the strings. Remove foil from the tips. Place kumquats on each tip if available.
Carving the roast is easy, just slice between each rib to yield a nice serving size per guest, although if like mine, they will come back for seconds. Some folks like to carve the rib from the loin creating a nice filet of meat.
Orange Marinade for Pork
for each rib rack, pork loin or 5-8 pork chops:
1 cup orange juice
1 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup apple cider vinger
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/4 cup kosher salt
Combine ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before using as a marinade for meats. After several hours, add a handful of ice if needed to help cool it down.
Brandied Fruit Stuffing
1 1/2 cups dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup brandy or cognac
1/4 cup orange liqueur or cointreau
1/2 cups dried plums
1 crisp apple, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges
1 crisp pear, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges
2 satsumas or tangerines, sectioned and seeds removed
Heat the first 6 ingredients in a sauce pan to a low simmer, cover and turn off heat. Stir after several hours and reheat again. Essentially, the apricots will soak up all of the liquid and become plump. Right before placing in the crown of the roast, stir in the remaining fruits.