Caitlin Bensel
Active Time
1 HR
Total Time
12 HR
Yield
Serves : 6

It seems like all summer long our guest room has a revolving door for visiting friends, family, and wine-industry folks, often people we’ve met on the road when I join my partner, Tom Monroe, on sales trips for his winery, Division Winemaking Company. Planning the menu for casual suppers with these guests—when we’ll be sharing our table with those who, like us, appreciate the pleasure of a meal that lasts late into the evening—is a favorite practice of mine. I love it when the wine, and ensuing conversation, never stops flowing.

In my earlier years of entertaining, I used to go big, cooking such elaborate feasts that I was hardly able to enjoy the time with friends. (It’s a common mistake for young cooks looking to impress.) It took more than a few of these over-the-top performances to realize what’s truly impressive is a one-pan showstopper that can mostly be prepped ahead and is perfectly comfortable hanging out on its own as you hang out with arriving guests, cocktail in hand.

A rack of pork loin is one such dish. It’s a relatively affordable piece of meat that’s festive in appearance. And it’s as delicious at room temperature in the summertime as it is hot from the oven. I always brine pork loin to keep the lean cut juicy, and it’s fun to infuse with unexpected flavor. Lapsang souchong is a Chinese black tea that is smoked over pinewood. When steeped into this wet brine, it imparts a subtle, smoky flavor reminiscent of a campfire without having to actually smoke the meat.

The wines on the table all made sense with pork and fruit and summertime patio parties, in theory—a bottle of Tom’s Oregon Pinot noir, cru Beaujolais, and a few rosés on the richer side. As we stabbed bites of the smoky pork smeared with sticky plums and meltingly tender fennel and swished around small pours of each wine, we noted that, surprisingly, none of them were giving that holy pairing we were expecting.

Tom and one of our guests left the table and scurried to the basement to rummage through haphazardly stacked wine boxes next to the washing machine, aka our wine cellar. They emerged in eager anticipation to pop yet another cork: a 2006 Petterino Gattinara, Nebbiolo from an underappreciated area of Piedmont where the grape grows at the base of the Alps in a region known as Alto Piemonte. It was at once floral and earthy, luscious and tart, with tannins just mellow enough and the allusion of sweet cherries and dried plums. It was just what we needed—the perfect wine to keep the conversation and good times flowing late into the evening. 

How to Make It

Step 1    

Combine 1 quart lukewarm water, 1/2 cup salt, and honey in a large pot. Juice the orange, and add the orange juice and rinds to the pot. Bring to a boil over high, stirring to dissolve the salt and honey. Remove from heat, and add the tea; steep 10 minutes. Pour the brine through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a nonreactive container large enough to hold the pork (I use an oval 6-quart enameled Dutch oven); discard the solids. Add 1 quart ice water, and stir to cool completely. Submerge the pork in the brine, and refrigerate at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.

Step 2    

Remove the pork from the brine, and pat dry; discard the brine. Place the pork, fat side up, on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season with 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Place the pan in the center of the oven, and preheat to 250°F. (Slowly warming the roast in the oven as it preheats eliminates the need to bring the roast to room temperature first.) Roast 1 hour.

Step 3    

Meanwhile, in a small heavy saucepan, combine the plum jam, orange juice, vinegar, crushed red pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about two-thirds to a thick, jammy glaze, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to let cool slightly.

Step 4    

After pork has roasted 1 hour, coat all sides of the pork with the glaze. Continue roasting at 250°F, fat side up, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of roast reads 135°F, about 2 hours. Transfer the pork to a cutting board to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Step
Step 5    

While the pork rests, increase the oven temperature to 475°F. Pile the fennel in the center of the baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Toss to coat, scraping up the pork drippings from the pan and mi them in. Spread the fennel in an even layer. Place the pan in the oven as it is coming up to temperature, and roast the fennel until tender and browned in s, about 20 minutes.

Step 6    

Season the plums with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add them to the pan and toss to combine with the fennel. Clear a space for the roast and return it to the center of the pan, fat side up. Roast at 475°F until the glaze is caramelized and bubbly, the plums are tender and just barely hold their shape, and the fennel is meltingly tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Step 7    

Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a cutting board, and carve between the ribs into 6 chops. Scatter the basil over the fennel and plums, and toss to combine; serve warm or at room temperature.

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