The General's Loin
Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Unlike some of my other posts, this dish isn’t one that has a long and storied Norman Rockwell feel behind it. This was more of an Iron Chef America adventure that turned out good enough to share!
Since I’m no longer traditionally employed in the belly of the beast, I’ve ended up adopting a more Bohemian existence. That goes for my time in the kitchen as well. One of the things that keeps my culinary life interesting is a rotation of different meats from Butcher Box. (No, I’m not sponsored.) One of the main benefits, besides not having to leave my house to get good quality meat, is that they provide a random assortment of items, some of which I wouldn’t seek out if left to my own devices. (I’m a relatively simple Viking and have been known to survive on little more than steak for months at a time. But that’s a story for another post.)
One of these cuts in a recent delivery was a boneless pork loin roast. This is not to be confused with pork tenderloin. Pork loin roasts are bigger, less expensive, and have a nice little fat cap on the top for maximum flavor.
As is typical when confronted with a cut of meat that I haven’t used before, I started with a survey of what the internets had to say. Most of the recipes I found were a savory flavor profile with herbs, garlic, etc. and roasted in the oven. That seemed serviceable, but a little boring. After all, I have to try to keep you people (and my Viking belly) entertained!
So after remembering that I still had leftover General Tso sauce from my last attempt at General Tso chicken, I decided to try something different. (I still have a little more work to do on the General’s chicken until I’m ready to share. My last attempt was a solid reality check for my ego. But rest assured that I’m well on my way to no longer needing my local Chinese takeout establishment.)
Ready your loins
1 cup light soy sauce
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
In my experience, really delicious food involves creating different layers of flavor. As such, we’re going to first marinate the meat before rubbing it and throwing in the oven. But before that, let’s address something about your kitchen hardware.
One comment that I always get from friends that offer to help with meal prep in my kitchen is that they are impressed that my knives are always extremely sharp. And while I do have some bougie Damascus steel for which I attached and shaped my own handle, I typically use a humble Victorinox chef knife as my everyday workhorse. For me, using a relatively inexpensive knife means that I can use one of the inexpensive countertop sharpeners that you just drag the knife back and forth through and then you end up with a razor sharp edge.
If you are spending time in the kitchen, make sure you have a sharp knife. It’s ultimately safer because you don’t have to use as much force to cut through things. It also makes it way easier to do this awesome scoring pattern that will get you plenty of attention on social media.
Start with the roast fat side up and slice diagonal cuts across the top about an inch apart. The goal is to get through the fat cap without slicing too far into the meat itself. Definitely don’t cut all the way through the roast, unless you want to have pork cubes for dinner. If you have to make a few passes over the same spot to get the correct depth, that’s better than going too deep on the first slice.
After you finish that, turn the roast 90 degrees and repeat. In addition to looking awesome, this scoring pattern will give the fat a chance to get delicious little crispy bits on top and give all the seasonings, and eventually glaze, that we’re going to apply a place to hide and get happy.
Once you’ve finished your knife work, put the roast in a plastic zipper bag with the soy sauce and ginger. You’re going to want to let that sit in your fridge for at least a few hours. I’d recommend doing this in the morning and letting it sit all day until you’re ready for dinner. If you are a house-Viking or work-from-home-warrior, maybe flip the bag around a few times throughout the day. If not, it’ll still be tasty.
Let’s get saucy
1 cup chicken broth
2-3 Tbsp regular soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp oyster sauce
½ cup sugar
½ cup white vinegar
1 Tbsp cooking wine
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 dried chilis
I think for most people, Chinese sauces seem a bit mystical and almost impossible to recreate. But like most magic tricks, they aren’t difficult once you understand how they work.
First, you’ll probably need to venture out to an authentic Asian market to get the best ingredients. Asian markets are a fun field trip that will typically overwhelm all of your senses. There will be strange aromas, bright neon cartoonish packages, and, if you found a good one, a bunch of men yelling at each other in their native tongue while breaking down meats and fish in the back.
Cut up your dried chilis and remove the stems and seeds. (Think Snoop Dogg...No stems, no seeds, no sticks. Oh and you may want to wear some food service gloves, unless you want to have a religious experience when going to the bathroom later.) Then you’re pretty much just going to whisk everything together at room temperature and then simmer the mixture on your stovetop while constantly stirring until it reduces into a syrupy consistency (think maple syrup).
Viking’s note: You can use any pot or pan to reduce the sauce into the correct thickness. But keep in mind that you’re boiling sugar so you don’t want to use too much heat or let it set into a hard crust on your best cookware. I used my well seasoned carbon steel wok for this job and I’ll definitely write up a guide on carbon steel and cast iron seasoning and maintenance at some point in the future. Maybe you’re into the whole having to scrub a stainless steel pot for an hour to get it clean, I’m not.
Rub your loins and heat things up
Don’t worry, the meat puns will keep coming...
2-3 tsp garlic powder
1-2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dry minced onion
Now that your meat is marinated, we want to add the next layer of flavor. Take your loin out of the marinade and evenly dust the outside with the garlic, pepper, and onion. Anyone who’s dabbled in BBQ videos on YouTube has probably observed that there is an art to applying rub to a piece of meat. Sprinkle your seasonings from well above your meat to get the picturesque even coating that makes mouths water and don’t worry too much about wasting some that doesn’t land on the meat. Standard aluminum sheet trays are your friend for this process.
Once you have an even rub applied, place your roast fat side up on a wire rack in one of the aforementioned aluminum sheet trays. (If you hate doing dishes as much as I do, line the bottom of the tray with foil.)
This is going to go into a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour. But honestly, don’t pay attention to the time. When cooking multiple pound hunks of meat, you should be going by temperature. Invest in one of the probe thermometers and stick the probe in the thickest part of the roast. If you don’t have one of these devices, you’re playing roulette with your dinner. May the odds be always in your favor.
Personally, I don’t like my meat cooked until it’s a dry tough mess. And with modern food safety, you can eat pork at a temp under well done without worry.
Once the internal temp hits about 135, start by brushing on a baseline of the glaze. Periodically repeat the glazing process until your internal temp hits about 140 degrees. If you pull it out of the oven at this point, the carryover heat should take the final temp up to about 145, if you let the roast rest lightly tented in foil.
Enjoy your meat
So now you have a big hunk of delicious meat! As with most meats, a starch and veggie should round out dinner nicely.
I chose to plate up a few thick slices of the roast with some jasmine rice and sautéed veggies. Alternatively, a bed of dressed salad greens or some Asian noodles with soy and sesame would be nice as well. And that’s about it. Hopefully you enjoy this take on a less popular cut of meat!
Oh, and if you aren’t feeding a bunch of people, you’ll probably have some leftovers. I ended up turning some of this into pork fried rice that Uncle Roger might even approve of and other delicious things as well. All to be revealed in good time!