We don't really cook with milk. At least not outside the pastry and dessert realm. If we're using dairy to go savory, it's usually with cream, cheese, butter, sour cream, or yogurt. But rarely just plain old milk.
Which is dumb.
The Italians have been cooking pork in milk since God knows when, and there's a reason for it. Milk is an excellent medium for poaching meat. It's slightly sweet, it takes on a nutty flavor as it cooks, and it thickens into an excellent sauce. (Most recipes will make liberal use of the word "curds," which I find distasteful. Even offensive.)
This is actually the second time I've attempted the ol' pork-in-milk. The first go-around never made it to the blog because, frankly, it was a disaster. I tried the NY Times' confusingly named recipe for rice pudding pork (the recipe contains not a grain of rice), and the result was dried-out meat with a flavorless sauce.
Part of that was my fault -- slow cooking rule #1: always use fatty cuts of meat -- while part of it I happily slough off onto the paper of record. Regardless, some tweaking was needed.
Thankfully, Saveur came through with a winner. The pork came out tender and juicy, the sauce was sweet and slightly herbaceous with a garlicky thwack and plenty of lemon zest to brighten the whole affair.
And it's easy to envision using milk to slow-cook any number of meats, maybe even potatoes or other sturdy root vegetables. It is, I feel, an underutilized cooking technique.
The next time you're looking to braise a beef shank or some chicken thighs, consider reaching for the moo juice.
Recipe after the jump.
RECIPE (via Saveur.com)
1 boneless, fatty pork loin, about 3-4 lbs
Salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
10-12 fresh sage leaves
6 cups whole milk
1 lemon, zested
Season the pork with salt and pepper and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Pour the milk into a large saucepan and warm over medium-low heat.
Pour the olive oil into an enameled cast-iron pot that is just big enough for the pork and set over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the pork and brown on all sides, about 3-4 minutes a side. Remove the pork to a plate and reduce the heat to medium-low.
Add the halved garlic and stir for a minute or two until it starts to brown. Add the sage leaves and stir for another 30 seconds. Clear a space in the middle of the pot and put the pork back in. Add the milk and bring to a slow simmer. Stir in the lemon zest and partially cover the pot. Allow to simmer undisturbed for 2-3 hours, during which time the milk sauce with thicken and brown.
Remove the pork and slice thickly. Serve with the browned milk sauce.