Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well, this hoary hound recently learned a new one when he looked for recipes for a pork loin. I had a few parameters for my search: stovetop as opposed to oven; no fresh herbs (none were on hand); and easy (it was a weeknight). Ultimately, I found one that met all the requirements in Carol Field’s In Nonna’s Kitchen: “Pork Loin Roasted in Milk.”
But there was a hitch; I had made a similar recipes many times before and even chronicled one here. I came across the recipe for my earlier version of this ages ago in Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook, published in 1976.
Interestingly, Hazan in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, published in 1992, attributes the origins of the dish, as do many other writers, to Bologna. Field, on the other hand, writes that her version comes from a Neapolitan home cook, a Signora Albano, who claims the dish shows “the definite affinity of the food of Naples and Bari, the two great ports of southern Italy.”
Indeed, there are quite a few differences between the two recipes, both in ingredients and in method. Whereas Hazan uses no aromatics and only salt and pepper for seasoning, Field calls for the classic trio of diced carrot, celery, and onion, along with finely diced pancetta. The differences in procedure are also striking. Whereas Hazan calls for thoroughly browning the roast in oil and butter before adding the milk, Field skips the browning and goes directly to braising the roast in the milk.
Yet another difference comes with the sauce. After removing the roast from the pan, Hazan skims any excess fat from the sauce of coagulated milk clusters, corrects for seasoning, adds a little water, and boils the sauce until the water is gone, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Field, on the other hand, after removing the meat, boils the sauce down until almost all the milk is reduced to “a thick collection of light brown clusters” and then passes the sauce through a sieve to remove any remaining milk and fat. Afterwards, she calls for deglazing the pan with a surprisingly small amount of wine or water.
So, in light of these differences, which recipe did I prefer? I began with Hazan’s 1976 version (which I prefer to that updated in 1992). It always yields a moist, succulent roast with creamy nut-like clusters from the milk. Field’s recipe also delivers a perfectly cooked roast and even a more flavorful, richer sauce. It’s difficult to choose between the two. In fact, the next time I prepare this roast, I’ll merge the two recipes. From Hazan’s, I take the thorough browning of the meat, primarily for the added flavor, but also for appearance. From Field’s, I’ll use the aromatics and pancetta, which I’ll brown in the fat from the pork and then proceed with the braise. I’ll also go with sieving the sauce to remove the excess milk and fat. I believe the combination of the two recipes should deliver an even better roast.
I should point out that I did have some problems with Field’s recipe. I was surprised that only seasoning she calls for is tasting the pan sauce for salt and pepper after the meat has been cooked and removed from the pan. I chose to season my roast liberally before adding it to the pan. Another problem was the amount of milk called for. I started with the recipe’s 4 cups, which came up to the brim of the pot, only to find when I returned to check on the roast, the milk had overflowed and created a mess on the stove top. The final challenge came with deglazing the pan with wine, which was supposed to provide “pot juices” to drizzle over the meat, while the sieved sauce was served on the side. The trouble was there was almost nothing at the bottom of the pan to scrape up. It left me thinking that perhaps the meat should have been browned either before the braise or perhaps even after it.
Despite these hurdles, we were both happy with the dish, especially with its savory, sweet, silky sauce, and we look forward to improving it the next time with the recipe combo.
Pork Loin Roasted in Milk | Arrosto Di Maiale Al Latte (Adapted from Carol Field’s In Nonna’s Kitchen.)
2-1/2 pounds boneless loin of pork, tied
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) finely diced pancetta or salt pork
1 carrot, diced
1/2 celery rib, diced
1 onion, diced
4 cups milk (You may use less; do not over fill the pot.)
1/3 cup dry white wine or water
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Pat the meat dry with paper towels.
2. Season the meat on all sides with salt and pepper. (Although Field doesn’t call for this seasoning, I thought it was necessary.)
3. Put the pancetta, carrot, celery and onion with the pork in a heavy enameled casserole or Dutch oven just large enough to hold the meat.
4. Pour in the milk. Let it come to a slow boil. (Do not over fill the pot. As long as ¾ of the roast is submerged, it should be enough.)
5. Partially cover the pot and cook over medium heat with the milk at a steady bubble, turning the meat from time to time, until the pork is tender when pierced with a fork and the milk has been reduced to nut-sized clumps, about 1½ hours to 2 hours.
6. When the meat is cooked, remove it from the sauce and keep it warm, covered with aluminum foil.
7. Raise the heat and cook down the sauce until almost all the milk has been reduced to a thick collection of light brown clusters. (This step took 15 minutes to complete.)
8. Off the heat set the sauce in a sieve to strain away any remaining milk and fat.
9. Add 1/3 cup white wine to the cooking pot and boil it over high heat, scraping up any loose cooking residues from the pot with a wooden spoon. Taste for salt and pepper. Don’t be surprised if there aren’t any residues. Simply reduce the wine. You may have only enough pot juices for a few slices of meat.
10. Cut the roast in 3/8-inch slices and serve on warmed plates with the pot juices over the roast and the sauce on the side.
Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling