I continue to be amazed by the public's fascination with cooking shows, specifically reality shows dealing with professional kitchens. Gordon Ramsay, billed as the greatest restaurateur on the planet, is back with "Kitchen Nightmares," in which he tough-loves failing restaurants back to health.
Even though we view it with the same skepticism as pro wrestling, our staff is glued to it every Wednesday night as we clean the kitchen.
Then there's the competition on Food Network to choose the new American Iron Chef. If you haven't seen the Iron Chef series, essentially top chefs are given a secret ingredient and one hour to create a five-course menu based on the ingredient.
Supposedly, the contestants have no idea what the secret ingredient is before the allotted time begins, something that I find hard to imagine given the incredibly complicated menus they come up with. For me to accept this premise widens even further the gap between them and us.
Lastly, the wildly anticipated release of "Ratatouille" on DVD in which a rat aspires to be the greatest chef in Paris. Of course the idea of a rodent occupying the position of chef is not all that new - just ask an experienced waiter or waitress.
The recipe today involves curing pork tenderloin using a brine also know as a wet cure. We used to use a dry cure for pork, but found it too hard to control the saltiness of the finished product. The wet brine is far more forgiving and predictable.
In researching my facts, I discovered that the amount of salt in our recipe is slightly less than the majority of others I found. What matters is the amount of time that the meat spends in the brine. If it needs more salt in the flavor, don't increase the salt; increase the time.
If you feel like going for it, you can cold-smoke the tenderloin for a half hour or so after it comes out of the brine. Just be sure to rinse and pat dry the meat before putting it in the smoker. I've also tried searing the pork in some reserved bacon fat before finishing it in the oven with good results.
Grits are a lot like polenta; they're great served immediately out of the pot or poured out in a sheet, cooled, then cut into shapes for grilling or frying. The apple compote is a natural for the salty pork and the cheesy grits. It also makes a good filling for dessert empanadas.
Maybe we'll do those next.
Cured Pork Tenderloin
4 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound each
2 quarts water
1/2 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 small onion, sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 whole allspice berries, crushed or 1/2 teaspoon ground
1 big bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, crushed
Remove any excess fat and the silver skin (the white membrane) from the pork and return the cleaned pork to the fridge.
In a one gallon glass or stainless steel bowl place the onion, garlic, thyme and dried spices. Reserve.
In a small sauce pan bring two cups of the water along with the salt and sugar to a boil. Pour the salt/sugar mixture over the aromatics in the bowl and stir to combine. Add the remaining six cups of water and allow the brine to cool completely.
Submerge the pork in the brine using a plate to keep them under, return the bowl to the refrigerator and rest for about 4-5 hours.
Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. If you're going to cold smoke them, now's the time. Otherwise the pork can be made up to this point a day ahead. Allow the pork to air dry in the refrigerator for a half hour or so before covering. To finish, sear the tenderloins in a hot pan with a little oil (or bacon fat), place on a roasting tray and roast for about 15 minutes or to an internal temperature of 145 for medium. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Cheddar Cheese Grits
makes about 6 cups
1 tablespoon butter
1 small red bell pepper, small dice
1 Serrano chili, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups good canned/box chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup quick cooking grits
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
In a small sauté pan sweat the pepper, garlic and Serrano in the butter until soft but not browned. Set aside.
In a medium sauce pan bring the stock and the cream to a boil. Reduce heat and add the grits slowly, stirring constantly. Continue cooking and stirring until the grits begin to thicken, about 6-8 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the sautéed peppers. Add the cheeses stirring gently until they have melted. Spoon onto warm plates and surround with sliced pork and apple-chili compote.
makes about 3 cups
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons red chili puree (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 small cinnamon stick
For puree: Remove stems and seeds from 5-6 dry Ancho chilis. Soak them in hot water for about 15 minutes. Place the chilis in a blender or processor and puree. Use just enough of the soaking water to facilitate blending. Strain the puree through a tea strainer. Store covered and refrigerated.
Place all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan, stir to combine and place over medium heat. Partially cover the pot with foil and cook until the apples are tender, stirring occasionally. You want it to be a little soupy when it comes off the stove because the apples will soak up a lot of the juice as they cool. Taste for salt. Store refrigerated.
For service gently warm the compote adjusting the consistency with a little water or even better, apple juice, if necessary.
• Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own the Cafe del Rio, 394 S. C St. in Virginia City.