“Talkin’ Moroccan” Pork Loin Rack

(NOTE: This is one of the things on here that would really benefit from a couple of explanatory photographs. Annoyingly, I didn’t take any when I made this because it was an off-the-cuff experiment and I didn’t expect to be able to write it up immediately. Who knew? I will update this with real photos in the next week or so. Until then, you just have to make do.)

If you have ever been to a restaurant that offers northern African cuisine you will have noticed that the way the aromas in the place are somehow more enticing than any place else. The scents are all things you have experienced before – warm and aromatic spices like cinnamon and cumin and coriander – but it’s not the combination that makes them so memorable, it’s they way they infuse the space and hit your nose. You don’t just smell them, you almost feel them.

There is, of course, a trick. People in the northwestern horn of Africa – Tunisia, Algeria, and especially Morocco – mix their spices into a warm paste with the hot drippings from seared meats and then slather the result onto the meat before roasting. The hot fat opens up the spices and enriches them, making them penetrate the meat more easily and giving them an incredibly pervasive aroma that will give you a serious case of hound-dog drooling while it cooks. In Africa this technique is usually used for lamb or goat, but I got to thinking about how it might work out for a nice cut of pork. Since the traditional lamb spices don’t pair overly well with pig, I lazily co-opted my go-to pork rub as the base. While the technique is Moroccan-inspired, the flavours are not. But fear not. The results are, quite frankly, spectacular.

I did it in the Big Green Egg, but it would work quite nicely (just not with the same depth of flavour) in a regular oven. You do need a big oven-proof skillet to make this work, and a meat thermometer is a must. So grab your gear and read on for the incredibly simple details.

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Today we are working with an extremely short list of ingredients. And since after the initial ten minutes this is a “stick it in the oven and don’t touch it until it is done” kind of deal, it is a a great thing to have in your back pocket whenever you are busy or just need to throw something together.

One pork loin rack roast, preferably frenched (see notes below)
3 tbsp of True North Pork Rub
granulated garlic
coarse sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Pork Note: It is important here to get a pork loin rack roast, and not the boneless “pork loin” variant. The bones are absolutely necessary for this to work correctly. You do not have to get the frenched version (as shown in the lame generic picture over to the right, which I will be replacing, promise) but I think it makes for a much nicer presentation whether you serve the roast whole to the table or do individual platings. If you do get it frenched – just ask your butcher – make sure that the meat trimmed back from the ribs is rolled and tied as in the picture and not just carved off.

Portion Note: You should count on 2 ribs per serving. A 6 or 8 rib rack is the perfect size for this: Any larger and it might not fit in your skillet, and any smaller and it just isn’t going to roast properly. Don’t worry about the extra portions if you are cooking for one or two people, they warm up amazingly well for a lunch or dinner the next day.

Ready to start? Good. Preheat your Big Green Egg / other charcoal roaster / regular ol’ oven to 325 degrees. Dump your pork rub into a heat-proof bowl and set it aside. Season the rack on all sides (including the ends!) with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Grab yourself a large oven-skillet, one that is large enough for the rack to lie flat in. Hot tip: Check the size of your skillet before you head to the butcher to get your meat.

With the preliminaries out of the way, put the pan on medium high heat and add a couple of generous tablespoons of olive oil or (better) lard or bacon fat. When the oil or fat is hot enough to sear but not yet smoking, put the rack in flat, on the rounded side away from the ribs. Sear this for about 3 minutes – when it has a nice browning on it and it is ready to release from the pan, roll it onto the next side (so the ribs are standing straight up) and sear for 3 minutes more. Watch your heat! If the fat starts to smoke, turn down to medium. When the bottom is done, roll it again so that the rib side is down for about (you guessed it) 3 minutes. Finally, grab the whole things with your tongs and while holding it, sear each end for about a minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and (while holding the roast with your tongs so that it doesn’t escape) carefully pour off all of the hot fat into the bowl with your pork rub. Mix this quickly with a fork into a smooth paste. It should be about the consistency of a steak sauce – if you have ever encountered a bottle of A1, you know the consistency that we are shooting for. If it is too thick or grainy, you can add a little more oil to thin it out. Spoon the hot spice paste onto all sides of your roast and smear it all over so that you have even coverage on all sides – I use my fingers for this to make sure it get it everywhere, including on the exposed meat between the bones. . Use all the paste, and dont worry if some drips off into the pan. Finish with the rack in the pan ribs side up and put the whole thing into the oven.

Roast at 325 until the internal temperature of the meat is 60 degrees C (that’s around 145 degrees F if you are old-school) in the middle. A probe-type thermometer is ideal here, since the less you open the oven, the better. If you only have an instant read, start checking the temperature after about 45 minutes. Whatever you do, do not overcook this. When it hits temperature immediately pull it from the oven and let it rest on a warm plate for at least 5 minutes. If the rack is frenched and tied, cut the strings after the resting period.

If you would like a pan sauce for service (and trust me, you do) simply put the pan with all the drippings and spice run-off onto your stove at medium heat. De-glaze the pan with a half cup of red wine (I like to use a Montepulciano for this sort of thing) and once the alcohol is cooked off and you get all the bits scraped off the bottom add about a cup of chicken stock and bring that to a boil. Lower the heat and whisk in four tablespoons of cold butter. When the butter has fully melted and been incorporated turn down the heat to a simmer and you are done.

To serve as individual plates, cut the strings from the roast and slice into individual chops by cutting between the bones. Put two chops on a plate, stacked and crossed so the bones are the visual feature, and spoon the pan sauce over top. Serve immediately after cutting, and only cut as many as you are serving. Otherwise, bring the roast and the pan sauce to the table whole and cut chops off as people need them. Either way, leave the rest of the roast intact to refrigerate the leftovers and only slice when you are ready to reheat.

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