The Rainbow (chard) is here
BY YOM YATES
The long arctic winter finally came to a crashing halt when I spotted gorgeous baby rainbow chard from Elmwood Stock Farm at our Lexington Farmers’ Winter Market.
I was happy to find something green (other than kale) dancing in the morning light. Finally. The feathery baby chard leaves offered a sneak peak of what’s to come this season. Shop local. Shop often. Expect the unexpected. There will always be surprises. Always. Bring it.
Bounding past the unassuming Two Forks Farm table, home of Hood’s Heritage Hogs, Travis Hood pulled me in with his unabashed enthusiasm and commitment to his craft. Their mission statement begins very simply, Know your farmer. Know your food. As I flipped through the various Red Wattle Hog cuts he brought to the market that day (roasts,loins, chops, bacon, ham steaks,and sausage), people hovered around waiting for me to choose something. When I finally settled on a rather small tail-end pork tenderloin, the gallery jumped into the fray and gobbled up the rest. That was exciting. In a way, it reminded me of those frenzied summer mornings when I felt the need to rush to the farmers’ market to buy the good tomatoes before they vanished.
Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Wilted Baby Rainbow Chard
Years before my cooking stints at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival, we hosted bourbon tasting/pairing dinners at work. Back in the day (my baby step days), I tried to keep things as simple as possible. My go-to entree at the time was bourbon-braised pork loin. While basic, it was killer.
Scaling everything back with a few downsized changes, I adapted my old stand-by method to fit the shorter cooking time for my smaller less fatty Red Wattle pork tenderloin.
I mixed 1 cup dark brown sugar with 1 tablespoon each of onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, kosher salt, ground mustard, and cracked black pepper. After smearing the whole tenderloin with sharp dijon mustard, I packed the spiced brown sugar on all four sides and set it aside to come to room temperature.
After 35 minutes, I splashed 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large cast iron skillet and cranked the heat to medium high. Just as it started to ripple, I added the pork tenderloin and browned it on all sides before deglazing the hot skillet (off the heat) with 1 cup of Town Branch bourbon. I scraped the sticky bits from the bottom of the skillet, added 1/2 cup chicken stock, and slid the pork tenderloin into a preheated 400 degree oven to roast until the internal temperature reached 145 degrees. After 30 minutes, I pulled the meat from the oven, placed it on a cutting board (covered) and let it rest for 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute throughout the meat.
I strained the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer, poured them back into the skillet and added 1/2 cup chicken stock along with a splash of bourbon. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and let it bubble away.
Typically, when preparing swiss chard, the tender leaves are stripped from the tougher stalks. The newly harvested baby chard was so fresh, I left the tiny stalks attached to the leaves, trimmed them up a bit, and rinsed them under cold running water.
With everything on deck, I didn’t want to cook the chard to death. Working over a medium flame, I sauteed 2 thinly sliced shallots with 2 quartered hot pickled cherry peppers. When the shallots started to caramelize, I threw a handful of the baby chard into the pan, kissed it with fresh lemon juice, gave it a quick toss, and pulled it from the heat.
After slicing the pork tenderloin into two-inch medallions, I nestled them into pillows of creamy celery root puree, twirled the wilted baby chard to the side, spooned the pan sauce over the medallions, and finished with peppery watercress.
Anchored by the airy celery root puree and lovely wilted chard, the utterly tender heritage pork tasted like pork should taste. Real. Like my old school method, the spiced caramelized fat mixed with the reduced bourbon to create a sauce spiked with vanilla undertones. With a bit of added stock, the sauce morphed into a subtle sum of its parts.
Savory, sweet, delicate, and complex treasures at the end of the rainbow.
This article also appears on page 16 of the June 2021 print edition of ace magazine.
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