On days like this, I’d like to think I might have been a butcher in a past life.
You know, a quintessential old-fashioned butcher: stout, white-haired, stained apron, big cleaver, enthusiasm for chopping things up.
I have the cleaver and the enthusiasm. That’s a start, I guess.
In a perfect world, I’d quit my day job and apprentice in two places: A pastry kitchen, and a butcher shop. (Sidenote: I can’t wait to read Julie Powell’s forthcoming book, Cleaving, on just that topic. It’s due out in December.)
For this recipe, I frenched the bones on a pork loin roast, soaked it overnight in a brown sugar brine, then slathered it with a generous amount of garlic, ginger, and parsley and roasted it.
The result is deeply flavorful and moist meat that’s fit for a king—or a tableful of your favorite royalty.
This article includes detailed instructions on how to trim the roast and french the bones.
From ugly ducking to a swan, by way of my big, pointy knife
This post could also be titled: How to Find An Oddly Butchered, Bone-In Pork Loin Roast, Chisel Away at It Like It’s the Statue of David, and Turn it into a Lovely Roasted Rack of Pork Worthy of Company.
In other words, I’m going to show you that you can turn an angry looking piece of meat like this:
Into a beautiful roast worthy of being the center of attention on your dinner table like this:
You’d serve that to your in-laws, wouldn’t you? Mmm hmmm. I know I would.
Looking back on this post, it quickly turned into The Hungry Mouse’s Gallery of Raw Meat Photography.
Proceed with caution if you’re squeamish. There are a fair number of close ups, but really, ya need ‘em to see just how to french the bones.
Sometimes bigger is, well, better
Let me back up for a sec.
Being the big carnivore that I am, it’s no surprise that I’ve always loved to cook meat, particularly roasts. It never occurred to me, though, that not everyone felt the same way—until I started throwing dinner parties shortly after I moved to Boston.
At the time, most of the folks I knew—even the ones who loved to cook—were intimidated by tossing a big hunk of meat into the oven, then lording over it for a few hours until that painful and uncertain moment when you have to decide whether it’s done.
Sure, they’d cook a steak, but they’d rather set themselves on fire than roast a whole prime rib.
I understand part of that, because prime rib is a commitment. It’s expensive, and you usually have a houseful of dinner guests wandering through your kitchen, anticipating one of the best meals of their lives.
Here’s the thing, though. When it comes down to it, cooking a roast is like cooking anything else: You just have to know how to do it. And really, with roasting, your oven does most of the work for you.
Not to mention the fact that a lot of the bigger cuts are the most economical. Think pork shoulder. Or chuck roast.
How I learned to cook meat
I learned how to cook meat the easy way: I was young and broke and bought what I could afford—which often meant large, odd, tough cuts.
That was in the early days of the Internet (the nineties, not the seventies), before you could shoot your question to Google and get 1,239,483 answers in .53 seconds. Before Epicurious. Before food blogs were everywhere. Back when the Food Network was the new big thing.
My mom can tell you all about it. When I was 18, she’d get calls like this from me maybe once a week:
“Ma! I need help! Do you have time to help me? I so totally need help.”
“Oh my god, are you OK, Jessie?”
“Yeah, yeah. Well, no. Here, look. I bought this huge pork shoulder. It’s a hulking, bloody thing and it still has the skin on but it was only six bucks and the guy at the meat counter told me it’d be delicious.”
“Right. So what the hell do I do with it? I don’t even think I have a pot it will fit in.”
And so on and so forth.
She’d always help me figure it out. Most of the time, the result was wonderful. Sometimes I screwed something or other up, and would wind up ordering Chinese after three sweaty hours in the kitchen.
No matter what happened, I always kept notes so I would know what to do—and what not to do—next time.
My point is: You won’t learn unless try. So go ahead and buy that brontosaurus-sized pork shoulder at the store if it’s on sale and you think it looks too good to pass up.
You’ll be able to figure out what to do with it. And if you can’t, I guarantee there’s someone on the Internet who can help. (Including me. E-mail me at [email protected] if you ever get stuck.)
Which leads me to this particular pork roast.
It was just a hair under seven bucks. The meat itself was a beautiful rosy pink, but I knew it wasn’t butchered quite right. There was way too much bone on it still, but how could I resist? I brought it home, and so begins our adventure.
Save all the scraps
One quick note before we get to the beast.
It may seem wasteful to trim a piece of meat like this. And it would be, if you threw out everything you cut off.
Save all the scrap and bone. They’re the makings of delicious, velvety roasted pork stock. Just toss them in a bag in the freezer until you have time to deal with them.
Alright, to the meat!
Garlic & Ginger Encrusted Rack of Pork
7 1/2 lb. bone-in pork loin roast
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
6 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 Tbls. fresh ginger, minced
7 cloves garlic, mashed
2 Tbls. fresh parsley, minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
How to trim and french a bone-in pork roast: Start by trimming off the bulk
Alright, so here’s my roast. It’s got nice pink flesh and creamy white fat—just what you want to look for when you’re at the market.
And here’s the bottom.
Look at it from this side. I mean, clearly, something went terribly wrong here.
Note that there’s a large flat plate of bone on the bottom. I’m fairly sure it was a mistake and shouldn’t have been in the case like that. On every other pork roast I’ve purchased, this has been trimmed off. But that’s OK. My roast was six bucks. So I just cut it off myself.
Let’s get started. Flip the roast over, so the underside of the ribs are facing up.
Slice that plate of bone right off.
Set it upright and inspect the roast. This is how I’ve always purchased whole bone-in pork loin roasts in the past. It’s most likely how yours will look if you find one at the market.
Next, you want to trim the bulk of the meat off the ribs, so you can french them. Cut straight down until you hit the ribs.
Next, slice horizontally along the top of the ribs to remove the top strip of meat.
It will look fairly messy, but that’s just fine. You’re just trying to get rid of the bulk so you can deal with the ribs.
Here’s what it looks like from the side. It’s starting to resemble the pork roast we’re after, but we need to get rid of that jagged ridge on top.
Carve it on an arc so that the top slopes gently to meet the bone.
You’re aiming for something like this (not perfect, but the right shape). Normally, a “perfect” rack of pork will be trimmed all the way down to the eye (the round loin). I like to leave the top layer of fat and meat on. The fat will help baste the roast as it cooks and keep it moist. And those little bits of meat on top will be just delicious.
How to french the ribs on the pork roast
Next, flip the beast over.
Slice between the ribs to separate each one with a large, sharp knife.
Switch to a smaller knife if you like here (I used a paring knife because it’s easier to wield in small spaces). Cut away the meat from between each rib.
(Warning: This is where the pictures start to get a little gritty.) Your ribs will look kind of mangled. That’s just fine. This is a work in progress, and you’re not done. Trim the meat from between all the ribs like this.
Be really careful with your knife at this point. The pork fat will make everything very slippery and it’s easy to cut yourself.
Now, you’re getting somewhere:
Now work on each individual rib. Trim the fat and skin from the bottom of the rib. (Pull and slice with your knife.)
Your bones should be getting much cleaner.
Flip the roast over. Clean the tops of the ribs in the same manner.
Finally, scrape each bone with your knife to get it as clean as you can. You can also tie a string around the bone, and yank it off, taking the last of the fat with it. I can never manage to do this quite right, so I stick with a knife.
Get as much off as you can, but don’t make yourself nuts. The bones will brown in the oven, and the whole thing is going to look lovely�even if there’s a little fat still clinging to them.
Take all your scraps and toss them into a zip-top bag and freeze them to use for stock later.
Tie the pork roast
Next, cut a few lengths of kitchen twine. Tie them around the roast like this:
This helps the meat keep its nice, plump shape as it cooks.
Here’s my final roast, ready for brining.
Brine the pork roast overnight
Be sure to use kosher salt for this. It’s less salty than iodized or sea salt. If you substitute one of those, cut down the amount you use.
Combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, and water in a large bowl. Whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add in anything else you like here (crushed garlic and ginger would be good).
Put the roast in a gallon-size zip-top bag (or bowl if your roast is too big) and pour in the brine.
Smoosh the extra air out of the bag and seal it well. Refrigerate overnight, turning the bag over once or twice to be sure the meat soaks evenly.
Make the spice rub for the roast
Put the minced ginger, garlic, parsley, kosher salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
Mix together with a fork until combined in an even paste.
Roast the pork
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
Grab your pork roast. Drain the brine off and discard it (it’s done its job). Pat the roast dry. Set the meat on a rack in a roasting pan.
Put the paste on top of the meat.
Spread it around so that the top of your roast is covered.
Roast at 500 degrees for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, drop the heat to 300 degrees and roast for another 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is done to your liking.
There are different opinions on pork doneness these days. I’ve seen more and more people eating it medium (pork is generally much safer these days than it used to be). That said, I like my pork cooked all the way through. Use a meat thermometer and yank it out of the oven when it’s done to your liking. Here’s what you’re looking for:
134 degrees = medium
150 degrees = medium well
160 degrees = well done
I like to yank it at 150 or so, then let it rest tented for 20 minutes. It’ll usually rise almost 10 degrees in temperature when it’s under that little foil nest. Resting will also help keep the meat juicy.
Once its rested, carve the roast in between the ribs, into individual chops. Serve immediately.
Oh, and about cooking that prime rib I mentioned
I’ve devoted 4 pages in our new book, A Holiday Feast, to how to cook restaurant-style prime rib. The section includes what to look for at the market, plus tips on how to figure out what size roast you need to buy.
Thanks so much for your wonderful response to the book! We’re truly touched and are so excited about making the print edition available in the next week or so.