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Cider-Brined Pork Loin with Herb Crust

This juicy pork roast, enhanced by a cider brine and encrusted with Dijon mustard and fresh herbs, is an example of how well-chosen ingredients and careful cooking can combine to make extraordinary eating. The recipe calls for a bone-in roast. Meat cooked on the bone is juicier and more flavorful than boneless cuts.

Ingredients:

For the cider brine: 

  • 3 cups hot water 
  • 1/3 cup table salt 
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary 
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh sage 
  • 2 Tbs. peppercorns 
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds  
  • 4 cups apple cider 
  • 3 cups ice water 
  •   
  • 1 center-cut bone-in pork loin roast, about 4 1/2 lb., trimmed, chine bone removed and backbone cracked by the butcher 
  • 3 Tbs. Dijon mustard 
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary  
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage  
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley  
  • 4 or 5 handfuls wood chips, preferably apple or oak, plus 1 additional handful dry chips if using a gas grill 

Directions:

To prepare the brine, in a 3-quart heatproof bowl, stir together the hot water, salt, brown sugar, rosemary, sage, peppercorns and fennel seeds until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the cider and ice water and stir until the ice dissolves.

Place the pork in a deep nonreactive pot and pour in the brine. Place a large plate on the pork to keep it submerged in the brine. Cover the pot and refrigerate for at least 18 hours or up to 24 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Spread the mustard over the meaty part and ends of the roast. In a small bowl, stir together the rosemary, sage and parsley. Sprinkle the herbs evenly over the mustard-coated areas of the pork. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the grill.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling over medium heat. If you are using a charcoal grill, sprinkle 1 handful of soaked chips on the coals. If you are using a gas grill, place the dry chips in a smoker box or an aluminum foil packet and ignite them over a heat element. Add 1 handful of soaked chips to the already-lit chips. Oil the grill grate.

Place the pork, bone side down, over the drip pan. Cover the grill and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast, away from the bone, registers 145° to 150°F, about 2 hours. Add more charcoal and wood chips in 3 or 4 additions to keep the grill smoking with an average grill temperature of about 325°F.

Transfer the roast, bone side down, to a carving board and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes. For smaller servings, cut the rib section away from the meaty part of the roast in one piece. Save the ribs for another use. Cut the boneless roast crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. For more substantial servings, cut the ribs between the bones into chops. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Chef’s tip: You may be surprised by the large amount of salt in the brine, but it is essential. The salt penetrates the meat, which draws in moisture and other flavors and tenderizes the roast.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Mastering Series, Grilling & Barbecuing, by Rick Rodgers (Free Press, 2006).