The Cover Cooking Challenge, Week 1: Food & Wine’s Cider-Brined Pork Tenderloins

Slow cooker apple cider pork loin

Slow Cooker Apple Cider Pork Loin

Brining a particularly hard technique to do in a tiny kitchen. When meat brines, it sits for a period of time (often at least 24 hours) in a cool space (so a fridge) before it is cooked. This creates a few problems for me: 1) fridge space and 2) planning ahead. I usually barely have time to get dinner on the table on a weeknight, much less prep one dinner and then make a second.

Spice crusted pork

Instead of brining, try crusting the meat in ground versions of the spices and then searing them on.

Thus, for my first cover cooking challenge, I decided to adapt a recipe from the April issue of Food & Wine: an apple-cider brined pork tenderloin with aromatic spices such as coriander and cinnamon used in the curing liquid. For my purposes, the potent, warming flavors are easily converted into a more apartment friendly format, reducing cost, cooking time, and space used.

To save money, I swapped out pork tenderloins for a pork loin. Tenderloins have more flavor than a pork loin and their texture is a bit more, well, tender. But a regular pork loin, especially if cooked low and slow in liquid, can be a great, less expensive substitute.  Braising or, in this case, slow cooking adds flavor and makes the meat fall apart tender.

Apples and parsnips

Parsnips add a bit more flavor than carrots when slow cooking.

Next, I decided to use a slow cooker instead of cooking each part of the meal separately. In my opinion, a slow cooker is an essential tiny kitchen tool. It transforms cheap cuts of meat into something tender and delicious, allows you to go out all day while dinner cooks, and generally makes a one-pot meal, so clean up is a breeze. For this recipe, I was able to throw all the flavors into the cooker at once, and just let it go while I went to the bar to watch some NCAA basketball. The only prep needed, besides cutting vegetables, was searing the pork. Always brown your meat before adding it to the slow cooker. It adds a ton of flavor and only creates one extra dish—it’s worth it. I also made a few slight ingredient substitutions to compensate for the extended cooking time. I used parsnips instead of carrots. I find their slightly spicy flavor adds more to the dish than the basic, sweet carrots. I also used cortland apples instead of honeycrisps. I mainly go by what’s freshest in my store, but I also looked for something that was good for baking. The harder apples hold up better when baked or cooked slowly, something that’s a plus in this meal.

Browned pork loin

Browning meat before adding it to the slow cooker for extra flavor and appealing color.

Two general tips on adapting recipes for slow cookers: you need to reduce your liquids and up your spices. Nothing in a slow cooker evaporates, so less liquid is needed from the start. A general rule is to half the liquid of the original recipe. For the spices, add an extra pinch of everything except elements that add heat. Cooking so low and so slowly can diminish flavors, so you want to increase them at the outset. Hot spices, though (cayenne pepper, chili peppers, red pepper flakes) can actually get hotter with cooking, so be careful on your proportions for those.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as coming home to the smell of a slow cooked meal pervading your home. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Apple Cider Pork Loin
Serves 8

2 heaping tsp ground black pepper
2 heaping tsp ground coriander
1/2 salt
1 3-lb pork loin, visible fat trimmed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 large cortland apples, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large parsnips, quartered and then sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
Zest of 1 medium orange
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes*
1 12-oz bottle hard apple cider
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp water
Noodles for serving

Mix black pepper, coriander, and salt together in a small bowl. Evenly coat the pork loin with the spices. Reserve any left over spices.

Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick pan over medium high heat. Add the pork to the pan and brown on all sides, approximately 4 minutes a side.

While the meat is browning, toss the garlic, apple, and shallot in the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle with the next five ingredients (through red pepper flakes).

Put browned pork loin on top of vegetables/apples, and slightly nestle it in. Pour the cider over the top. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

After 8 hours, remove the meat from the pot and let sit. Turn the slow cooker to high. Mix the corn starch and water in a small bowl until smooth. Add to the sauce and vegetables/apples, and cook over the high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly (about 5 minutes).

Slice meat and place over noodles. Top with vegetables and sauce.

*Note: I used about 1 tsp of red pepper flakes, but my husband and I enjoy our food spicy so I reduced the amount for the blog. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to red pepper flakes and any hot spices. You can always add some in while you’re eating, but you can’t take them out.


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