One of my favorite pieces of food writing is the 12th Century Irish wonder tale, Aisling Meic Con Glinne (The Vision of Mac Con Glinne), in which Mac Con Glinne exorcises a demon of gluttony that has possessed his king. He tempts the demon to come out by telling the story of a fantastical vision he had in which he travels to a magical place where everything is made of food. Here’s a small part to whet your appetite:
The fort we reached was beautiful,
With works of custards thick,
Beyond the loch.
New butter was the bridge in front,
The rubble dyke was wheaten white,
Bacon the palisade.
Stately, pleasantly it sat,
A compact house and strong.
Then I went in: The door of it was dry meat,
The threshold was bare bread, cheese-curds the sides.
Smooth pillars of old cheese,
And sappy bacon props
Fine beams of mellow cream,
White rafters – real curds,
Kept up the house.
In my yearly quest to avoid green-dyed foods on St. Patrick’s Day, I dove into Darina Allen’s lovingly researched collection of Irish recipes called Irish Traditional Cooking . Ms. Allen, who is also the founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, realized that an entire generation of Irish people who had grown up in the countryside, without electricity (it didn’t reach some rural places until the 1970s), cooking real traditional Irish food, was dying off. She made it her mission to collect as many recipes as she could, directly from the hands of the people who cooked them, before it was too late. She wrote to regional newspapers asking people to help save their traditional foodways.
The response was tremendous, she was contacted by people of all walks of life from farmers to inhabitants of the great houses of the Anglo-Irish gentry. She then travelled all across the country to meet these cooks and learn the recipes directly from them, in their kitchens. The book is filled with stories told by eighty and ninety-year-old men and women about the prized foods of their childhoods.
Pork has been a traditional food in Ireland for a very long time. It is mentioned frequently in the old Irish tales which began in a pre-Christian oral tradition and were eventually written down by medieval monks. The great epic the Táin Bó Cúalnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) starts with the Scél Mucci Mic Dathó or the Story of Mac Dathó’s Pig, in which warriors of two opposing kings hold a contest to see who will be given the honor of carving the pig at a feast. Traditionally, in ancient Ireland this was decided through single combat. You can read an English translation of the story here
Thankfully, we don’t have to resort to such violence when carving the roast these days, but it does make for a rousing story. In honor of Mac Dathó’s Pig, I chose Darina Allen’s mother’s recipe for Pot Roasted Pork Steaks to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It uses the delectable pork tenderloin to make a juicy roast, stuffed with potatoes, onions and herbs, and drizzled with a rich glossy pan sauce.
Pot Roasted Pork Steaks
Adapted from Darina Allen
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 pound potatoes, boiled in their skins
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper
2 pork tenderloins (total of about 2 lbs.)
2-3 tablespoons lard or more softened butter
½ cup dry white wine or better yet, some Irish lager-style beer
2 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Pre-heat oven to 350F.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in saucepan, add the chopped onion, stir to coat it with butter and sweat it, covered over low heat for 8-10 minutes. While that’s going, peel and mash the potatoes, then add the cooked onion, chopped parsley and thyme, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. This is the stuffing.
Do not trim any fat from the tenderloins, we need every bit we can get. Split each tenderloin down one side and open it out flat like a book. Season both sides of each one with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Spread the stuffing evenly on top of one of the opened out tenderloins about ½ inch thick and about ½ inch from the edges of the meat. If you have leftover stuffing, consider forming it into cakes and frying them in butter, which I have done in the photo above. Place the second opened out tenderloin on top of the first making a sort of sandwich.
Next you need to truss the meat so the two pieces will stay together, this also helps it cook more evenly by pulling it into a bit more compact shape. Use kitchen twine to make a series of loops around the two pieces of meat. Here’s a video from Epicurious which shows how to do it.
Once the meat is trussed, smear the lard or softened butter all over the outside of it. Heat a heavy dutch oven over medium-high heat and then place the meat in it and brown it carefully on all sides. This is the only browning it will get, so make sure it looks the way you would like for serving.
Cut a piece of waxed paper so that it will fit inside your dutch oven and place it over the roast, cover the pot and put in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 155-160 F. Baste occasionally, while it is cooking. When the meat is finished, remove it from the pot, and cover it with aluminum foil allowing it to rest and finish cooking as you make the sauce.
Heat the chicken stock in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it is steaming but not boiling. Put the dutch oven you cooked your meat in over medium heat and pour the white wine or beer into it. Use a spatula to scrape up the brown bits stuck to the pan. Let it bubble until the wine is reduced by about half. Next add 2 tablespoons of butter and allow it to melt. Add the 3 tablespoons of flour and whisk continuously while cooking the flour for 2-3 minutes. Pour the hot chicken stock into the dutch oven and whisk continuously until the sauce thickens. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce with salt and freshly ground pepper, pour it into a gravy boat and serve with the pork.