A stewy stepping-stone
By the standards of only a few decades ago, I am woefully unfit for marriage. I do not know how to cook a pot roast, or a pork roast, crown roast, standing rib roast, prime rib, slab of ribs, leg of lamb, brisket, beef tenderloin, or, really, most portions of meat larger than a single serving. Not long ago, I would have been laughed out of the kitchen, shooed away by potential mothers-in-law, and shunted off to spinsterdom with my steak knives still unused. Thank goodness I fell in love with a vegetarian.
But nonetheless, there comes a time in every young woman’s life when she must learn how to handle large pieces of meat. I am ready to rest on my laurels where roasted chicken is concerned, and I am confident that I can tackle a turkey—a twenty-pounder, even—but at the advanced age of twenty-seven, I can no longer ignore my ignorance when it comes to big, disembodied pieces of pork, lamb, and beef. Any self-respecting cook needs a good, solid repertoire, and the slow realization that mine is a little dainty suddenly looms very large. No amount of meatballs will do. Larb is for lightweights, and sausage is for sissies. I should be able to cook something substantial, hefty, even hulking, something calling for a carving set and a cutting board strong as a fortress and fitted with a moat.
A girl has got to start somewhere, so I stepped up to the butcher counter and bought a pork tenderloin. This was the stuff to make a wife of me: big, beautiful, and rosy, with a racing stripe of snowy fat running down its side. In fact, it was so impressive that just buying it, I decided, was progress enough for one day. So, with a contented sigh, I brought my large piece of meat back home and, handling it like the lightweight sissy I am, cut it instead into many small pieces. My date with Big Meat could wait. Before barbequed ribs, smoked butt, or Châteaubriand, this girl has found a handy stepping-stone, a stewy one with peppers and onions.
Cooked pork may not be the prettiest of meats, but it makes up in flavor what it lacks in beauty, especially when garlic, rosemary, and anchovies are involved. Sliced into slender strips, tenderloin is tailor-made for this dish, lean but not the slightest bit tough. Given a fast sear and a few minutes’ soak in a sauce both sweet and sour, it cooks quickly to delicate and toothsome. Between the resinous aroma of rosemary and vinegar’s complex tang, the sweet onions and the winy peppers, this is a plate that feels sturdier and far more substantial than the sum of its parts, no steak knives or carving sets necessary. For now, Big Meat can wait. Tomorrow, my vegetarian comes to town.
Quick Braised Pork with Vinegar and Peppers
Adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Weeknight Kitchen newsletter
Lynne Rossetto Kasper is my kind of woman. This dish couldn’t be much easier, and it makes for great leftovers, the kind that get better with each passing day. Be sure to serve it with potatoes, bread, or even polenta for catching all the juices, and try slipping leftovers into a sloppy sandwich with good-quality provolone or bufala mozzarella.
A note about vinegar: the original recipe calls for ½ cup, resulting in a dish that is a bit pungent upon first tasting but that mellows pleasantly by the second day. If you prefer a less bracing flavor, try using ¼ to 1/3 cup instead.
Good-quality olive oil
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 ¼ pounds), cut into ½-inch slices and then into ½-inch strips
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/3-inch strips
1 large yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/3-inch strips
1 medium-hot chile, such as jalapeño, seeded and cut into very thin strips
½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 oil-packed anchovies, rinsed
2 bay leaves
¼ to ½ cup red wine vinegar (see note, above)
¼ cup white wine
½ cup water
4 whole canned tomatoes, drained and cut into ¼-inch slices
Lightly film a large sauté pan or Dutch oven—not nonstick—with olive oil. Place the pan over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, toss the pork with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Put the pork in the pot, and cook, stirring constantly to keep it from sticking too much, until the meat is just seared; it should still be pink inside. Remove the meat from the pan, and set it aside.
With the pan still over medium-high heat, add the peppers, chile, onion, garlic, anchovy, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers and onion soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar, stirring and scraping up any bits of meat stuck to the pan. Cook until the vinegar boils away entirely; then repeat the process with the wine.
When all the wine has cooked away, add the water and tomatoes, and adjust the heat so that the sauce stays at a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes; then add the pork and its juices, stirring to blend. Simmer the meat and sauce for 2-3 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve hot.
Yield: 3-4 servings