Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stuffed Roast Pork with Armagnac, Prunes & Apricots

Although turkey is the traditional star of Thanksgiving, a succulent Stuffed Roast Pork can also capture the spirit of the holidays. Dried prunes, apricots and cranberries simmered in Armagnac bring a fruity but not overly sweet intensity to the fragrant full-bodied sauce. The savoury mushroom and chestnut stuffing, which is sautéed with bacon, onions, celery, fresh baked breadcrumbs and mixed herbs is cooked with a little chicken stock so the mixture holds together when pressed between your fingertips, then chilled until it's stuffed, rolled and tied in a butterflied pork loin; or for a Thanksgiving dinner for two, a more modest sized butterflied pork tenderloin would be just as impressive. Roasted for about 60-90 minutes, the stuffing can be made ahead of time, which means that there's more time to spend taking care of last minute preparations such as making Cheddar Chive & Thyme Gougères appetizers or Wild Mushroom Soup with Sherry & Thyme to begin the meal, taking this delicious Thanksgiving menu from festive to fabulous.

Stuffed Roast Pork with Armagnac, Prunes & Apricots
Serves 6

3 lb boneless pork loin roast, butterflied
1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 lb thick cut bacon, diced
3 large onions, finely diced
1 lb wild mushrooms, cleaned and diced
5 celery stalks, finely diced
1 1/2 pounds fresh chestnuts, roasted shelled, chopped (or jarred)
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups chicken stock, divided
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup Armagnac, Cognac or Port
1/3 cup dried prunes, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped
8 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
Sprigs of fresh thyme for garnish

Place the chopped dried prunes, apricots and cranberries in a small saucepan and simmer with 1/2 cup of Armagnac for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and let sit covered for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread the cubes of baguette evenly on 2 large baking sheets. Bake until golden, flip occasionally. Transfer to large bowl.

To oven roast fresh chestnuts: cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut to prevent the nut from exploding. Place in a shallow baking pan and roast in the preheated 400°F oven for 25 minutes, tossing occasionally. Peel the chestnuts while they're still warm, because the shells become hard and brittle as they cool, making them very difficult to peel. Finely chop the chestnuts and set them aside in a small bowl. Conversely, you can use jarred whole chestnuts and simply chop them up!

In a large sauté pan, cook the diced bacon on medium high heat, stirring occasionally. When bacon starts to crisp and brown, reduce the heat slightly and remove the bacon from pan. Add the diced onions and cook stirring occasionally until tender, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the mushrooms, stirring until they begin to soften and release their juices. Add the celery and stir for 2 minutes. Pour the contents of the sauté pan into the bowl with the bread, then mix in the chestnuts, thyme and nutmeg.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a little chicken stock if the mixture seems too dry. It should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. You may prepare this ahead of time and refrigerate until you're ready to roll into the roast, however let the mixture to cool before stuffing the pork roast.

To butterfly and stuff the pork loin: turn the pork loin fat-side down, and slice it lengthwise, almost but not quite all the way through, to form a long pocket leaving a 1/2-inch border of unslit meat at each end. Liberally season the interior of the butterflied pork with salt and pepper. Distribute the stuffing evenly, leaving a border on the left side to allow the roast to seal neatly. Roll the roast and then chill for 20 minutes before tying with twine. Season the exterior of roast with more salt and freshly ground black pepper and place in roasting pan, seam side down.

Roast at 400°F for 1 hour or until the internal temperature registers 150° in the centre of the roast. Remove from the oven onto a warm platter and allow to rest covered with foil for 20 minutes.

To make Armagnac and dried fruit sauce: place the roasting pan over medium heat until the browned pieces start to sizzle slightly, then deglaze with the Armagnac and reduce until the mixture resembles a thick syrup. Add the prunes, apricots, cranberries and chicken stock to the pan and reduce by half. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. When the sauce has thickened somewhat, remove from the heat and add the cold cubes of butter, whisking constantly until the sauce is thick and glossy.

Remove the twine from roast and slice the pork roast into 1/2-inch slices and arrange decoratively on a warmed platter. Drizzle the Armagnac and dried fruit sauce over the slices and garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme. Serve the remaining sauce in a small bowl on the side for guests to help themselves.