Test Cook Lan Lam Makes Milk-Braised Pork a Thing of Beauty

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

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Some recipes for this dish come with a warning regarding its ugliness. Ours doesn’t.

What did you think when you first started working on the recipe for milk-braised pork?

It's one of those obscure, classic Italian dishes; Marcella Hazan has a version that gets referred to a lot. I remember thinking, there’s very little hands-on cooking involved. It’s just a handful of ingredients. I also thought it was interesting that almost every recipe out there warns you: “This is not a pretty dish—you should really try it before you decide it looks too ugly to eat.”

How did you start the development process?

After a bit of research, I made five different recipes for milk-braised pork and then called the team to taste them all. There were two cuts of pork that were used pretty frequently, either a loin or a shoulder, and so when I chose the five recipes I made sure I had samples from both. Halfway through the cooking process you could really tell this was not a looker; it was just not pretty, because the milk curdles. A bunch of them smelled great and the Marcella Hazan recipe tasted really amazing. It didn’t taste like milk—it tasted rich and meaty. It had this garlicky, herby, really intense flavor. In some of the other recipes I tried, the meat was not so good.

 MIlk Braised Pork Loin

Where did you go from there?

The goals were to make the meat juicy and tender, and I wanted to keep the rich, meaty flavor. Most importantly, I wanted it to look more attractive. I think it’s a turn-off when you’re told a meal is not going to be pretty before you even start making it. Food is better when it looks as good as it tastes.

What was the biggest breakthrough in making the dish attractive?

I opted to go with pork loin because it cooks faster and wouldn’t be as greasy as a pork shoulder, which has a lot more fat in it. I knew I had to cook it gently, because pork loin can get wrung out. As for the sauce, the original tasted great because the milk gets caramelized and its flavor profile changes: It goes from bland and milky-sweet to this nutty, rich, unctuous sauce. In order to get it there without overcooking the meat I used baking soda, which helps brown the milk more quickly. I then added pork fat to the milk to help prevent curdling and make the sauce silky and smooth.

 MIlk Braised Pork Loin

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Milk-Braised Pork Loin

Once we solved the problem of the ugly sauce, our beautified version of this meaty Italian classic makes for a rich and savory dinner.

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