The versatility of pork loin is underrated. Sure, it serves as the perfect centerpiece for all sorts of occasions—a dinner party, the holidays, or a Sunday night meal. But pork loin is also good for leftovers—so good that I suggest you set out to create these leftovers intentionally. Just roast a large pork loin, serve some of it for a dressy dinner one night and then turn the rest into a stew, sandwiches, and a stir-fry on subsequent nights. I’m not new to this formula of making extra food to serve as the base for future meals—I wrote a whole book on roasted chicken and how to use its leftovers. But like chicken, the other white meat also shines in later go-rounds. All you need to do is buy more pork than you might for just one meal (a 4-pound boneless loin or two 2-pound loins will do). And while you’re at the market, don’t forget to pick up the supporting ingredients for the following nights’ meals. Then roast the pork and feed off your not-so-hard work.
Buy a whole pork loin
While most markets carry boneless pork loins, they’re often sold as half loins, weighing about 2 lb. But for even cooking, try to get a whole loin. The loin may have an outer layer of fat and gristle, which imparts flavor during roasting. It’s best to remove this layer, however, when preparing leftovers.
Brine the pork loin before roasting for a juicy texture.
The biggest problem with pork loin is that it can become remarkably dry. You’ve probably heard the sad story before: Today’s pork is bred to be lean, which makes for tricky roasting. To counteract this dryness, I soak the pork in a brine—a liquid solution of salt and sugar. This step takes minimal effort, and it’s worth it. Just set the pork in a mixture of apple cider (or juice), garlic, and thyme as you’re heading out the door to work, and when you return, the meat will have picked up some juiciness and a healthy punch of flavor.
Start the roast with high heat and then turn down the oven.
To keep things simple, I avoid a stovetop sear and instead cook the pork from start to finish in the oven. I’ve found that beginning the roasting with high heat gives the meat (and the maple-mustard glaze with which I brush it) a nice, browned crust. Then I lower the oven’s temperature and cook until the pork coasts to an even doneness—145°F on an instant-read thermometer. At this temperature, the meat will have a slightly pinkish hue, but no worries: it’s safe. More important, when cooked to this doneness, the meat will still be juicy and tender—great for eating now as well as for leftover preparations later. Do be sure to let the meat rest a good 10 minutes before carving so that it retains its juices.
At the market
Avoid so-called extra-tender or guaranteed-tender pork—it’s been treated with a sodium solution and has a spongy texture.
Use the leftovers in several ways.
You should have a couple of pounds of pork left after the first night’s meal, enough to go into two or three other meals. (The mild sweetness of the mustard glaze goes nicely in most leftover preparations, so leave the crust untouched in the areas where there’s no fat or gristle; namely, the bottom and sides of the loin.)
I like to add the pork to stews, like the New Mexican Pork & Green Chile Stew. I start with potatoes, aromatics, and chicken broth and then stir in diced pork toward the end of cooking. Roasted chiles add some heat, while a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro and oregano keeps with the dish’s New Mexican feel. Leftover pork also goes great in sandwiches. My favorite is a grilled “Cubano,” in which thinly sliced roast pork joins ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on a light roll. Leftover pork also shines in quick stir-fries. Meet my take on mu shu pork—Chinese wraps filled with a spiced stir-fry of cabbage, mushrooms, egg, and sliced pork.
Of course there are many other ways you can enjoy the leftover pork (see “More ideas” below), which will last a good four to five days before you need to use it up. Just get a head start with the roasted pork loin and let your creativity take hold.
More ideas for leftover pork
Sandwiches: Like homemade roast turkey, roast pork is a treat in a brown bag lunch. Layer thin slices of the meat with sharp cheese, greens, and sliced fruit like apple or pear.
Stews: Dice leftover pork and toss it into stews with a Mediterranean accent. Braise some green beans, olives, and tomatoes and then fold in the pork toward the end of cooking. Or prepare a shellfish stew with mussels, clams, and shrimp and toss in the pork as a meaty counterpoint.
Pasta: Brown pieces of the pork and toss with cabbage, Parmigiano, and penne for a quick weeknight pasta, or stir-fry slivers of pork with garlic, bean sprouts, and Chinese egg noodles for a pork lo mein.
Salads: Cut the pork into strips and set atop a warm spinach salad with caramelized onions and a bacon vinaigrette. Or dice the pork and scatter across romaine with avocado, corn, and tomatoes, for a Cobb salad.