Gothamist Eating In: Cooking Our Favorite Restaurant Dishes at Home

Tom Valenti, the chef and owner of Upper West Side hotspots Ouest and ‘Cesca, has somehow become a celebrity chef without constant appearances on a polished Food Network set or a glossy food magazine cover. Even though you can see him at the bookstore, the virtual mob scenes at his restaurants are there for really one reason – the food.

Valenti’s cooking is the far from trendy or pretentious. In a lot of ways, he’s very similar to the philosophies of Mario Batali, which Mario calls out in his book Simple Italian Cooking. Valenti is about homestyle comfort foods prepared at their best. While Gothamist is very tempted to feature Valenti’s excellent Chicken Soup and Meatballs from ‘Cesca (maybe when the weather gets colder), it is a perfect example of Valenti’s style. The dish was a no frills, perfect rendition of satisfying Italian classic that was just as amazing as it was when we tasted it in Italy last year.

Gothamist hadn’t been to Ouest in over two years, so a recent visit was more than a treat. While everything was fantastic, one particular dish struck us as a perfect dinner for a home cook to enjoy without too much fuss. Valenti features a recipe in his cookbook called Pork Portuguese. The dish features the traditional Portuguese pork and shellfish combination, utilizing a roasted bone-in pork loin paired with clams. The original recipe can be seen at a great site called Leites Culinaria. At Ouest, however, the recipe was done a bit differently to brilliant results. The pork loin was served without the bone and wrapped in bacon. The bacon addition paired with the soft and tender loin was fantastic.

Gothamist Recipe Ouest Pork Portugese with clams, corn and tomato salsa2004_07_food_ouestpork.jpg

We’ve taken Valenti’s bacon wrapped tenderloin technique and clam pairing, and added a light but flavorful summer salsa. The smoky bacon and tender pork is refreshed with the sweet summer tomatoes and the firm yet creamy white corn. This is a satisfying and relatively simple meal for a special summer night.

The main work in this recipe lies in the searing and roasting of the pork loin and the simple chopping of the salsa. Better yet, the recipe utilizes ingredients that you can get fresh at any reliable market. The quality of the tomatoes here is very important.

The following recipe works as a main course for two, though you’ll have some leftovers for the next day. You’ll also have a good amount of salsa left over for a snack, just keep in your fridge. A simple salad to accompany this dish would be a great addition as well.

Ingredient Shopping List
Recipe serves two to three people – just buy about a two pound piece of pork loin for a party of four or five.

1 1.25lb. boneless pork tenderloin
12 littleneck clams
1 packet of thick cut bacon
3 large ripe tomatoes (local, on the vine preferable)
1 ear of local white corn
1 head of garlic
1 red onion
1 jalapeno pepper
1 tbls unsalted butter
1 bunch fresh mint
1 lemon, 1 lime
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Estimated cost of ingredients: $28 at Fairway

Preparing the Salsa
The salsa can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated. A night in the refrigerator actually allows the flavors to meld together. However, making it a few hours in advance of eating this dish works just fine.

Chopping and Dicing: Rinse and dry the tomatoes. Cut each tomato into quarters. Remove the white inner membrane from each with the knife or your hand. Roughly chop each quarter of tomato into small bite sized pieces. While doing this, your cutting board will become filled with juice. Don’t throw this away. Scrape this juice into a large bowl with the chopped tomatoes.

2004_07_food_tomato1.jpg2004_07_food_tomato2.jpg

Smash one large clove of garlic with the back of your knife, chop finely and place in bowl. Slice the onion into quarters. Take one quarter of the onion and chop into a small dice and toss into bowl. If you like your salsa spicy, chop a quarter of the jalapeno off, rough chop and toss into bowl. Alternatively, you can trim off the white membrane on the inside of pepper and pick out seeds before adding to bowl. Rough chop fresh mint until you get about two tablespoons. Add to bowl. For the corn, place upright on the cutting board, with top of corn facing up. Carefully take a knife and, starting from the top of the corn, move the knife down the cob cutting kernels away from the core. Add to bowl.

2004_07_food_smashgarlic.jpg2004_07_food_corncob.jpg

Seasoning the Salsa: Slice open lemon and lime. Give the lemon one forceful squeeze into the bowl. Give two squeezes to the lime, as it’s less acidic than the lemon and will not make it as tart. Mix the ingredients around with spoon. Next, salt the ingredients with two pinches of kosher salt. Add some fresh cracked black pepper. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Mix ingredients with spoon and taste. Use your judgment – does it need a little more salt? Pepper? Mint? More garlic? You get the idea. Correct based on your tastes. Set salsa in fridge until about a half hour before serving.

2004_07_food_salsacloseup.jpg2004_07_food_salsabowl.jpg

Preparing the Pork for Cooking
To start, arrange about five pieces of bacon vertically on a cutting board, with each piece slightly overlapping the other.

Place the pork loin on the cutting board next to the bacon and drizzle a touch of olive oil on the pork and rub on all sides. This will help the bacon attached itself to the pork a bit better. Next, season both sides of pork with kosher salt and pepper. Take the pork loin and place in the middle of the bacon. Take the top of each bacon piece and fold down to cover the pork. Take the bottom pieces of the bacon and fold up to cover the bacon. Press firmly to make sure the bacon adheres to itself.

2004_07_food_porkunwrapped.jpg2004_07_food_porkwrapped.jpg

Cooking the Pork
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take a dry oven proof pan and heat on medium on stovetop for 3-4 minutes. When ready, add the bacon wrapped pork to the pan. Cook on this side for about 2 minutes, until the bacon looks a bit brown – we do not want to get it crispy here . . .just half-cooked as we are roasting it in the oven as well. Flip the pork to the other side and cook again for 2 minutes and until the bacon is a little brown. Lastly, do this for the top and bottom of the pork – just a minute or two for each side.

2004_07_food_cookpork1.jpg2004_07_food_cookpork2.jpg

Turn the heat off and place the pan directly into the oven for 8 minutes. It’s important to check the meat at this point and flip it, using a pair of tongs, to the other side. This helps the other side of the bacon brown a little more. Finish cooking on the second side for another 9-10 minutes. It’s important to check it at this point.

2004_07_food_cookpork3.jpg2004_07_food_cookpork4.jpg

To check the roast, you can use a meat thermometer. You want the pork to be at 145-150 degrees for medium rare. Remember, the pork will continue to cook when you take it out of the oven, so remove it just under what you want it to be. If you don’t have a thermometer, take it out of the oven (use a kitchen towel or two to hold the handle of the pan) and give it a firm poke with your finger. You want it the meat to spring back a bit – if it feels soft in the middle, it needs to cook a little more. If still unsure, take a small pairing knife and give the middle a small slice and check the doneness. You are looking for a slightly pink center. It’s okay to send it back to the oven briefly if necessary – just keep your eye on it.

When you reach the desired doneness, take it out of the oven and place on clean cutting board. Do not discard or wash the pan in which you roasted the pork– you need it for the next step. Place a piece of foil over it to keep it warm (don’t wrap it) while you prepare the clams.

Steaming the Clams
Take the clams out and make sure they are ready for cooking. Place them in a colander and rinse them under cold water if they are sandy. Get your salsa and the tablespoon of butter ready.

Place the pan from the pork on medium heat. When it gets hot, take a large spoon or ladle and get some of the tomato juice that had collected in your salsa bowl. Add it to the hot pan. Add the tablespoon of butter. With a large plastic spoon, scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the clams to the pan and cover. Check the clams after two minutes to make sure they are steaming properly. The clams should be steamed and ready in 4 minutes, or as soon as they open.

2004_07_food_clams1.jpg2004_07_food_clams2.jpg

Serving and Plating
Uncover pork and slice into two large pieces. Check temperature. It’s fine to serve this room temperature, especially in the summer. If you want to reheat it, put back in warm over for a few seconds (should not be the hot 350 degree oven).

Place a pile of the salsa on the center of the plate. Take the clams and surround one side of the plate with them. Add the pork to the opposite side of the plate, on top of the salsa. Take the sauce left in the pan from the clams and spoon around the pork and on top of clams.

2004_07_food_porkfinal1.jpg2004_07_food_porkfinal2.jpg

-- Joe DeSalazar