Last Updated on December 9, 2021
Celebrating Christmas without the Turkey – Festive Pork Loin and trimmings.
Go straight to the Festive Pork Loin Recipe
I’m rather bemused that the day I started to write up my Festive Pork Loin – one I’d prepared earlier that week, I spotted a feature in The Observer with Claudia Roden’s Roast Belly of Pork with chestnut puree and apple as a Christmas special. While I knew that pork roasts were popular in Germany for Christmas, I didn’t realise that the same was true in Spain.
It is, perhaps, just common sense. I can remember learning about the ‘ubiquitous pig’ at school – how every household would keep a pig to be slaughtered for a feast and to feed the family through the winter. Turkey isn’t native to Europe, it arrived in the 16th Century and until the 20th Century, it was very much the preserve of the wealthy. Here in the UK eating pork or ham on Christmas day originated as part of Yuletide celebrations when a pig or wild boar would be slaughtered. That went out of fashion in the reign of Henry VIII – but, having made my own festive pork loin roast this year, it’s a trend that I think could well be revived.
Like turkey, pork lends itself to simple cooking. It also works very well with the festive trimmings we normally serve at Christmas – pigs in blankets, cranberry sauce, spiced bread sauce or, in my case, spiced apple sauce. And, unlike turkey, pork loin is easy to cook without drying the meat out and can be bought by weight to suit anything from a small household up to an extended family of 10 or 12. It’s also easy to carve – and the leftovers are delicious. I’ve cooked mine in the cast iron skillet that Samuel Groves sent me – the 24cm one is perfect for a small joint of meat and the pan doubles up for making gravy too.
As with most festive meals, the trick with making this your Christmas lunch is to have a menu that everyone likes. And then a schedule with as much as possible done in advance. That way you can relax with a glass of fizz and enjoy the day.
Our main course menu, a practise run for the big day, comprised a festive roast loin of pork with easy herby apple sauce, roast potatoes, Chantenay carrots, braised red cabbage, broccoli, pigs in blankets and gravy. We started the meal with chicken liver pate (provided by the Parson’s Nose butchers) and finished with stollen. That meant the only cooking was the main course and that was carefully scheduled.
With an 800g loin of pork (serves 2-3 people) you will need to cook the meat for around an hour and ten minutes. You’ll also need to allow a minimum of 10 minutes for the meat to rest at the end. The resting period helps the meat relax so that when you carve the result is tender and succulent. I use that time to finish off my roast potatoes and to make gravy.
Later in the year, I’ll serve the dreaded sprouts instead of broccoli, but right now they are not quite at their best. Ideally, you should harvest sprouts once there’s been a frost.
I’ll add a printable recipe at the end for the pork and herby apple sauce. But here’s the schedule I used.
- First thing in the morning remove the pork from packaging,
- Score the skin carefully horizontally (e.g. in parallel with the string ties). Allow around a finger’s width between each scoring and cut almost through the fat to the meat.
- Rub the skin with salt and put the pork back in the fridge uncovered
- An hour before you want to put the meat into the oven, take the meat out of the fridge to come to room temperature. So, for an 800g joint of meat that will be two hours and fifteen minutes before you want to eat.
- Wipe the skin dry with a clean tea towel or kitchen paper
- Cut a few sharp incisions into the flat sides of the meat and stuff each one with bay, rosemary and garlic.
- Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Make a trivet in your skillet or roasting pan to sit the meat on with a few carrot sticks an onion and celery
- An hour and fifteen minutes before you want to eat, heat the oven to 220C (fan) or 230c (regular oven)
- Parboil the potatoes and drain
- Pour a little fat or cooking oil over the vegetable trivet and do the same in a separate roasting tin for the potatoes. Put both into the oven for 5 minutes to heat the fat through
- Tip the potatoes into the roasting pan and toss gently in the warm oil or fat
- Place the meat on the vegetable trivet
- Put both trays in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes until the pork fat is turning golden.
- After 25 minutes, turn the temperature down to 170c for a fan oven (180 for a regular oven) and baste the meat and the potatoes well.
- Put the pigs in blankets around the pork if there’s space or on their own roasting tray in the oven if not.
- Cook for a further 4o minutes or until the temperature with a meat thermometer reads 60C. Put the vegetables on to cook during this period. Carrots after 25 minutes, broccoli after 35 minutes.
- Take the meat out and cover it with a loose foil blanket to keep it warm. Allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes while you drain the vegetables and make the gravy.
- Use common sense with the roast potatoes. If they are nicely golden, turn the oven down to keep warm while you finish making gravy. If not, turn the oven right up for the last 10 minutes or so.
Roast pork loin (as opposed to the leaner and less forgiving tenderloin) is a forgiving dish – the wrapper of fat around the joint helps to stop the meat from drying out. It’s also worth remembering that so long as you preheat your serving platter and cover the meat with foil, it can rest for half an hour or so without getting cold. That’s a great solution to the inevitable scheduling problems.
Roast pork loin makes an excellent alternative to turkey for Christmas lunch. Served here with a simple herby apple sauce
- 800 gram Pork Loin joint (boneless)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 sticks celery
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 large cooking apple
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 banana shallot
- 1 tablespoon herb jelly (I used mixed herb)1
- 2 tablespoons water
At least 2 hours before you are ready to cook, take the pork out of the fridge, remove any wrapping and score along the skin into the fat right through to the meat.
Pat the meat dry with kitchen paper or a clean teatowel and then rub it with plenty of salt.
Cover with a cloth and leave somewhere cool (preferably not in the fridge)
When you are ready to cook pre heat the oven to 220c
Peel and trim your vegetables. Slice the carrots and celery into batons and the onion into segments.
Season well with salt and pepper and then mix with the olive oil
Lay the vegetables out over the base of a roasting tin
Wipe any moisture from the pork and then use slithers of garlic, bay and bits from the sprig of rosemary to insert into the meat. Season with a little more salt and pepper
Put the pork on top of the vegetables and baste with a little more olive oil
Put in the oven and cook for 25 minutes
Take the meat out and baste it with any fat that has been rendered into the pan. Turn the oven down to 170 and return the meat to cook for a further 40-50 minutes
Peel and core the apple then cut it into 1cm chunks
Melt the butter in a small pan and add the finely chopped shallot. Cook for 15 minutes over a low heat till translucent and soft
Put herb jelly into the saucepan and add the apple. Add a little water and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Cook until the apple is soft and starting to fall apart adding more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Check the pork regularly and baste with the cooking juices.
Once the meat has reached 145F/60C internal temperature, remove from the oven and put on a warm plate covered with a foil blanket to rest. You can use the vegetables and juices to make gravy
Serve with roast potatoes, gravy and vegetables of your choice.
The meat for my pork loin Christmas roast came from The Parson’s Nose – an excellent neighbourhood butcher that used to be on my doorstep when I lived in West Brompton. Luckily for me, they now do overnight Nationwide deliveries. Not only do they sell classic turkeys and great roasting joints for those looking for an alternative, but they also have all the things you might need to make your Christmas easy and yet really tasty. From special turkey and cranberry gravy, pigs in blankets and cranberry sauce through to burger kits and rather luxurious meal kits, you can avoid the supermarket crush and get things delivered to your door!
Can you taste the difference? I honestly believe that you can – the meat from a quality butcher like Parson’s Nose is well source, properly aged and stored in perfect conditions. It’s something the supermarkets can’t achieve – and while it might cost a little more, the taste is worth it!
Looking for something different? We love eating game at this time of year – and this Venison recipe with red wine sauce would make a delicious festive treat