Barbecued brined pork loin with potato salad and grilled zucchini
The history of cooking is a topic of enormous fascination for me. Particularly the execution of safe food-handling practices in pre-refrigeration days. In real terms, it’s just not that long ago that life was not so easy when it came to keeping food safe for consumption. We bitch and moan about how busy we are in the modern world, but when it comes to feeding ourselves safely, it has never been easier.
Just for a moment think of the ships that came from England to first colonise Australia. Vessels full of filth and disease and the stench of a mass of humanity crammed into the hold of a creaking wooden boat. What in God’s name did they eat and how did they keep it safe across the long journey? Well, there was the ubiquitous ship’s biscuits, which were made of coarse flour and water, and a lot of brined pork and beef.
An extract from the Royal Navy’s historical records explains how they preserved meat:
To preserve meat until consumption required salt and brine. The Navy victuallers’ process of salting and pickling meat involved several steps. First, they dry-rubbed the pork or beef with white salt. The meat then went into a brine to remove the blood for five days, since blood can cause meat to spoil while in storage. After removing it from the brine, the meat went into casks, with extra bay salt applied to each layer of meat placed into the cask. The final step of the process was pouring a fresh brine, the brine having enough dissolved salt in it to float an egg, into the full barrels. Each gallon of brine water used three and a half pounds of salt. To complete the salting process for one hundred pounds of meat, Navy victuallers used four and a half gallons of white salt and one and a quarter gallons of bay salt.
Thankfully, we don’t have to go to quite these lengths anymore to preserve meat for consumption. But the process of brining meat should never be overlooked. This is a recipe for brined pork loin, where the skin has been removed. Pork loin is a cut that can often be dry when it is cooked, but by brining the meat, it can be transformed. The brine used here is a wet brine. Apart from a quantity of salt dissolved in water, it has the addition of honey, bay, pepper and thyme. The flavours and sweetness are allowed to permeate the flesh and both season the meat and flavour it. The brine helps to break down some of the proteins in the meat, allowing it to be flavoured, seasoned and lose less water while cooking, leaving a much more succulent and delicious result.
The other thing I love most about this recipe is the leftovers. I often freeze the leftover cooked meat and shave it semi-frozen to be used in Asian-inspired dishes, such as rice paper rolls, pho and cold, zingy salads. It’s a far cry from the convict ships and their barrels of heavily salted pork, but curiously illustrative of the cumulative effect of the colonisation of this land.
2016 Sorrenberg gamay, Beechworth, Victoria ($45)
You’ll need to make the brine two days before you want to serve this meal to allow plenty of time to make sure it’s cold. It’s not hard but you have to think ahead. I love to start the whole piece of loin on a chargrill or barbecue and then finish it in the oven.
- 1 x 1.6kg piece of pork loin (ask your butcher for the eye only, no skin or belly)
- flaked salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 litres water
- 125g salt
- 180g honey
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 50ml sherry vinegar
- 50ml extra virgin olive oil
- 100ml grapeseed oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tbsp seeded mustard
- 1kg nicola potatoes
- 3 spring onions
- salt and pepper
- 400g young zucchini
- olive oil
- 2 sprigs basil
- To make the brine, bring all the ingredients to the boil in a large saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer until the salt has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, grapeseed oil, mustard and garlic. Set aside.
- Season the pork loin with salt and pepper and then add the meat in a whole piece to the brine and leave for 24 hours. Remove and pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
- Preheat a barbecue grill plate or chargrill pan until hot. Add the whole piece of loin and grill on all sides until it has lovely char lines up and down the length of it.
- Transfer to a roasting tin, then put in the oven and cook for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature is 70ºC. Remove, cover with foil and set aside to rest while you prepare the salads.
- Wash the potatoes and place in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. Drain, cool a little and then peel off the skins. Cut into one-centimetre dice and toss in desired amount of dressing. Slice spring onions finely, add to potatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
- Slice the zucchini, toss in a little olive oil and grill on the chargrill plate. Toss with torn basil leaves.
- To serve, carve the loin into thin slices, and plate up with the two salads.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 27, 2018 as "Brine power".
A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.