Last week my son, Mike, who hosts our family’s Christmas dinner, asked what we should make for this special meal. It took me only a second to answer, “Let’s do those racks of pork from my Sunday Roasts.” He wasn’t convinced so I continued to push my choice, enthusiastically listing the recipe’s merits. Racks of pork are inexpensive, but they look stately and impressive. They cook in far less time that a turkey, and pair well with countless vegetables and sides, I explained. Finally, I got his attention.
This recipe for racks of pork is one of my favorites and is simplicity itself to prepare. The racks are brushed with curry oil (made by whisking curry powder into olive oil) and baked with red onion wedges. I suggest using two racks of five ribs each to serve ten generously, but you won’t find these racks displayed in your grocery’s meat department. You’ll need to call the butcher, and order them ahead. In the original version I served the pork with a fall apple chutney, but for this holiday variation I reworked that condiment adding cranberries for color and replacing cider vinegar with balsamic.
The delectable chutney can be made several days in advance so that on Christmas you need only to brush the curry oil over the roasts and pop them in the oven along with the onions. Wild rice or your favorite stuffing, roasted butternut squash sprinkled with walnuts and crumbled feta, Brussels sprouts sliced and sautéed with garlic, and mashed potatoes with celery root would all make fine sides to this main course.
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Racks of Pork with Cranberry Apple Chutney
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tsp curry powder
2 racks of pork with 5 ribs each, about 3 pounds per rack (see marketing note)
1-1/2 pounds medium red onions
Freshly ground black pepper
Cranberry Apple Chutney (recipe follows)
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and curry powder. Brush all surfaces of the racks with half of the oil mixture; reserve the remaining oil.
2. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
3. Peel the onions and cut them into 1-inch thick wedges, leaving root ends intact. Salt and pepper the racks of pork on all sides.
4. Set a large, heavy flameproof roasting pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add one rack, fat side down, and brown on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and repeat with remaining rack. Return the racks to the roasting pan and arrange them facing each other with bone ends pointing up, fat sides out, and bones intertwined. Scatter the onions around the pork and toss with reserved curry oil.
5. Roast the pork until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the racks registers 150 degrees F and the onions are softened and browned around the edges, about 1 hour.
6. Remove the racks from the pan, arrange them with the bones intertwined on a platter and surround with the onions. Cover the racks loosely with foil and let stand 20 minutes.
7. To serve, slice the racks into chops (which will be extra large), sprinkle each with some salt, and top with some Cranberry Apple Chutney. Garnish with a few onions.
Marketing Note: Ask the butcher to prepare the racks by removing the feather and chine bones so that you will be able slice the racks into individual chops. Also ask the butcher to prepare the racks French style, which means that all the meat between the rib bones is trimmed away for a neat appearance. A thin layer of fat should cover the ribs on the racks to keep the meat moist as they roast, but other excess fat should be trimmed.
Cranberry Apple Chutney
2 large Granny Smith apples
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup dried cranberries
1. Halve and core the apples, then cut them into 1/2-inch dice.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté, stirring, until onions are softened, about 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the saucepan and stir in the diced apples. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the apples are translucent and beginning to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the brown sugar, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Stir until the sugar starts to melt. Add the vinegar and cranberries, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and liquids are syrupy, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the chutney cool to room temperature. (Chutney can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.) Makes 1-1/2 cups
(Adapted from Sunday Roasts by Betty Rosbottom Chronicle Books 2011)