I love pork for the Holidays. Actually, I like it all year round. However, there’s something extra regal and festive about a beautiful pork roast on Christmas Day that really gets me to caroling and having a grand old time. Good food does that to me. Can’t help it. But what is it about pork that has made it a holiday mainstay for so many families throughout the years?
I guess for many cultures, slaughtering the pig has always signified an important occasion. And you know what they say; the only thing that’s not edible where the pig’s concerned is its oink. So there was never any waste. That being said, I really enjoy what many Latino cultures do with pork for Christmas Eve. Most notable is the lechon, or roasted whole suckling pig. They rub it with all kinds of garlic and aromatic goodies and either roast it on a spit or in the oven. Oh man, the skin is so good. When I’m with my Puerto Rican in-laws for the holidays, everyone screams feliz navidad when it’s presented to the table. I sing it.
I believe another reason why so many home chefs choose pork as their Christmas feast centerpiece is that its sweet, succulent flavor marries extremely well with so many of the holiday flavors we all demand in December. Yuletide accompaniments like apples, pears, oranges, cranberries, raisins, honey and maple are often close at hand when serving the roast. You’ll find these in the form of chunky homemade apple-cinnamon sauce, pear and raisin chutney, cranberry relish, and honey or maple glazed yams, just to name a few. They are all good friends of pork. Hence, pork makes a lot of sense this time of year.
So, what will you do with pork for your holiday fetes? Something simple that makes a big impression is a center cut loin roast, bone-in or boneless. If going with the bones, I recommend a rack of pork, which is the same cut that has had the bones frenched. This makes it easier to cut after it is cooked. A simple roasting with some fresh thyme or rosemary is always nice. Or try an easy but delicious mustard glaze as Phyllis suggests in her recipe. You won’t believe the aroma in your kitchen and throughout the house. Guests will think you’ve been slaving over that stove the whole day when all you really did was throw it in the oven. That’s a home run for me.
You can take it a step up the culinary ladder and serve a crown roast of pork. Here two center cut racks of ribs are bent to form a “crown” and then tied together with the bones facing out. Really elegant. Roast as is or you can fill the center with your favorite holiday stuffing. Couldn’t be simpler.
Pork chops are also a good choice for a standout holiday meal. I like them extra thick. Sometimes I even stuff them with a cornbread and cranberry dressing. Again, very easy to prepare. Broiled or roasted, they’re always celebratory in every sense of the word.
Of course, there’s the Christmas ham to consider. Fresh, cured or smoked…bone-in or –out…your choice. Call me old fashioned, but I still like the flavor of cloves, pineapple and maraschino cherries with a cured ham. I know, very 1960’s. But hey, I’m a sentimentalist at heart.
I hope I’ve enticed you to include pork on the menu this Christmas. No, I don’t represent the pork industry. I just feel that it’s a traditional taste that the holidays call for. If you haven’t done so for a while, it might just take you back to Christmas dinners of yore. I think you’ll enjoy the journey.
Roast Pork Loin with Mustard Glaze
This is probably the simplest recipe for roast pork loin you are likely to come across. Yet it is very flavorful and satisfying and can certainly constitute company fare. John Clancy, chef, writer, teacher and restaurateur, taught it to me. This is an adaptation of the original recipe which appears in Clancy’s Oven Cookery.
Clancy was a protégée of James Beard and taught with him for eight years. I was most fortunate to study with him when he started his own classes, John Clancy’s Kitchen Workshop.
He opened his restaurant, John Clancy’s, specializing in fish and seafood, in the heart of Greenwich Village in 1981.
Ingredients (Serves 4 to 6)
1 (3 lb.) center-cut pork loin
1 t salt
½ t freshly ground black pepper
3 T Dijon mustard
½ cup fresh bread crumbs*
3 T chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sprinkle pork generously with salt and pepper. Place on a rack set in a roasting pan and place in the middle shelf of the oven. Roast the pork for 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven. Let the pork rest on the rack. Using a metal spatula, spread it with the Dijon mustard. Toss the bread crumbs and the parsley together, then sprinkle onto the mustard coating. Pat gently on top and sides. Return the pork to the middle shelf of the oven and let it roast for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. The bread crumbs should be lightly browned. Transfer the roast to a carving board and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.
*Make bread crumbs in a food processor from 2 slices of fresh bread without crusts.