Chefs on the FarmBy Leslie Miller author of Uncle Dave's Cow

I am a fan of many meats, but turkey does not excite me.

After all, what other meat can you name that when absolutely perfectly brined and wined and flipped and basted and rested and carved is described in inglorious terms as “not dry”? Right, chicken breasts. I think you just made my point for me. I strongly believe that when people proclaim the Thanksgiving dinner their favorite meal they are really talking about gravy. And probably stuffing. Stuffing is delicious. Turkey is not. To be fair, unlike, say, durian turkey is not offensive. But I treat food with the same consideration I do people—if they don’t induce strong opinions either way than they’re probably not someone I want to talk to at a cocktail party. 

If you insist on having turkey this holiday, you can still opt out of the commercial novelty-meat market and feast on a well-raised bird. Heritage turkeys are readily available, if incredibly expensive (think $100-$150 a bird) because of the time it takes them to reach market weight. Just as with most heritage animals, they sport much more colorful names (Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Black Spanish) than the Broad-breasted White that fills supermarket cases across the country. They are smaller with a more pronounced, deeper flavor than their big-breasted cousins. Aside from heritage breeds, you can still go local and humanely processed for half the price. Check with your local butcher or browse growers on LocalHarvest to find a farmer raising meat you can feel comfortable eating this Thanksgiving.

But I’m not here to convince you to go get a turkey, locally raised or not. This year I'm hosting Thanksgiving and not a wing, breast, or drumstick shall grace the table. In the spirit of still serving something festive we will be feasting upon crown roast of pork, a stunner of a cut comprised of loin rib racks, frenched (meat cut away from the bottom of the bone), then cut to allow the racks to bend and tied to form a circle or “crown”. The bones point upward in porky celebration while the luscious loin roasts below. To serve, cut into chops. Like with heritage turkey, you will pay a pretty penny for a crown roast. But I promise you will enjoy it more. Use your favorite stuffing recipe as a side; fruited stuffings would be lovely. Extra stuffing may be baked while meat rests, covered in foil, at 425 degrees.

Crown Roast of Pork with Cider- Serves 6-8

Crown Roast of Pork with Apple-Cranberry-Pecan Stuffing

  • 3 fresh cloves garlic, peeled
  • 10 sage leaves, rinsed and dried
  • Leaves from one bunch thyme
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 crown roast of pork, 9- 10 pounds, rib ends frenched
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 2 – 3 cups of your favorite stuffing recipe, unbaked

The night before serving, place garlic, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse to roughly chop ingredients. With the motor running, add enough olive oil to create a paste. Place crown roast on a large plate and rub well with paste. Loosely cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove roast from the fridge one hour before cooking.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place meat in a roasting pan and loosely mound stuffing in the center of the roast. Pour 1 ½ cups apple cider around the roast. Place roast on a rack in the bottom third of the oven.

Roast meat until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a loin portion registers 150°F, which could take anywhere from 2 hours to 2 hours 45 minutes. Check on roast every hour, adding reserved cider if the bottom of the pan becomes dry. Cover rib ends loosely with a sheet of foil after 30 minutes so that they don’t burn.  

When roast reaches temperature, transfer to a warmed serving platter and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Deglaze the roasting pan with some hard cider or Applejack and chicken broth if you like. To serve, cut into individual chops.

* Whole-animal note: Purchase a whole loin from the butcher or a processor and have him break it down into the component parts. This should cut down on cost per pound and give you extra treats: The excess fat gets rendered down and goes into your pie crust. The scraps and trim should be ground for you to make into sausage. 


-- Recipe by Leslie Miller author of Uncle Dave's Cow Skipstone ©
-- image credit

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