Oh yes, I know what you're thinking. Doesn't that look lovely? All burnished and brown and crusty? All herby and earthy and fragrant? Pork tenderloin, baby, and soft little potatoes, baked in a salt crust. Oh yeah. You don't even know how good the house smells right now. So good. Yes, it does.
I'm alone in the kitchen, heating up braised cabbage on the stove, while the pork and potatoes roast quietly in the oven under their thick cloak of herbed salt. The apartment's all warm and cozy and I'm waiting for my fella to come home and sit down to dinner with me - cold beer in hand, square meal awaiting, love all around.
Keys in the door. He's home! The man walks in, peels off his wool coat, shouts out a "Honey, I'm home!". I'm dancing in the kitchen, pulling the pan out of the oven, happy, so happy. He rinses off the back of his neck, plastered with little hairs from a quick trip to the barber, walks into the kitchen (that haircut, that face, oh, it's good), kisses me hello. We're all so-nice-to-see-you, oh-goodness-how-I've-missed-you, oh-lordy-how-awesome-are-you, no-no-how-awesome-are-you, and then suddenly - with no warning - all this huggy-bear-kissy-face, domesticated-bliss fest comes to a shrieking, gear-grinding halt.
One finger stretches out and points. Lips curl. The music stops playing. Readers, the world practically stops turning.
"What. Is. That."
(Now is probably the time to tell you that if there's one thing that Ben dislikes more than salt (well, except for anchovies - and the feeling for them is more like abject loathing, so it's not even up for discussion), it's pork. So pork and salt, together? You can only imagine the horror.)
Come on, baby, pork is tasty, so tasty, and really, not at all bad for you, as long as you're not snarfing bacon down every weekend and having pulled pork sandwiches on a weekly basis. Would I try to hurt you, honey, would I? I think you might be getting a little unreasonable about the whole thing, trust me, baby, trust me and if you don't trust me, then trust Russ, because Russ - well, it changed his life, this salt-roasting pork thing and if Russ says something's life-changing, I have to sit up and pay attention, I just do.
Ben stands in the kitchen in accusatory silence. I wield the butt of our heaviest knife and crack open the salt crust. Fragrance, the earthy scent of rosemary and potatoes and roasting meat, wafts aloft. I peek a sideways glance. Ben's impassive but for the tiny glint of interest now shining in his eyes. I lift up the browned tenderloin, brush off the clinging salt, set it down and carve it into moist, pink slices. The potatoes, tender with appealingly wrinkled skin, emerge from the white, sandy dome.
Three small potatoes on each plate, three slices of juicy pork, a riotous, purple tangle of cabbage, too. The knives sink easily into the flesh of the potatoes, the plates run pink with juices. The pork is tender and tastes, as Russ says, hugely of itself. A suggestion of rosemary fills the air, but the potatoes are just their best possible version, as potato-ey as it gets. I do my best to enjoy the meal subtly. I don't want to bang Ben over the head with the triumph of the pork tenderloin. It's bad enough to have forced him into eating something he usually spurns - I can't then also have it be the best meal of the week, can I?
What a silly question. Ben's plate is empty, as is mine. I get up for more cabbage and he holds out his plate. "More pork, please." I knew you'd come around, honey, I'm so glad you did.
Salt-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary and Fingerling Potatoes
2 tablespoons snipped rosemary leaves
6 cups coarse salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (1 1/4 -pound) pork tenderloin
1 pound fingerling potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon minced shallots
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the rosemary and the salt in a large mixing bowl and stir in 1 cup of water until the texture is that of gritty snow.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil until the surface ripples. Pat the pork tenderloin dry with paper towels and sear it in the hot oil until it is browned on all sides, about 8 minutes.
3. While the pork is browning, spoon a layer of salt about one-fourth-inch thick in the bottom of a gratin or baking dish just big enough to hold the pork and the potatoes in a single layer.
4. When the pork is browned, pat it dry with a paper towel to remove any excess oil and place it in the gratin dish, laying it down the center. Arrange the potatoes around the outside and cover everything with the remaining salt.
5. Roast until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes. At this point, the pork will be quite moist but still a little pink. If you prefer the pork to be more cooked, push the temperature to 150, about 5 more minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven and set aside 5 minutes to finish cooking.
6. With a sturdy metal spoon or chef's knife, chip a crack around the base of the salt crust and carefully lift off the top. Use a dry pastry brush to brush away any salt on the surface of the potatoes or the pork, turning the pork over to brush all sides. Transfer the pork to a carving board. Slice the pork into medallions one-fourth-inch thick and arrange on a serving platter. Place the potatoes in a medium bowl and toss with the shallots and butter just until coated, discarding any excess butter. Arrange the potatoes around the outside of the pork and serve immediately.