Thursday, March 16, 2017

Birch-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

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"Hey, they should make syrup out of birch tree sap."
This good idea semi-literally fell out of the sky. A large river birch at work got trimmed recently. With an uncommon string of warm days and nights dropping into the mid to low-thirties, the sap had begun to run. Whenever I was outside, I got hit with giant drops of river birch sap. The sap fell in large, glittering drops (like diamonds) from the fresh cuts. After the first several times of, "Did a bird just poop on me?" (once the answer was "yes.") I started wondering, "Hey...if that is sap...and maple sap can be turned into maple syrup...then is there such a thing as birch syrup?" My little numbskull of a brain decided it had heard of such a thing as birch syrup before. Didn't they serve it at one of the best brunch restaurants in my region of Virginia? A little further research unearthed two very interesting facts:

A) there is such a thing as birch syrup
B) the restaurant actually uses hickory syrup

After thanking my brain for such a lucky mistake and then feeling a little nervous at how often it makes this sort of mashup between facts and calls it truth, I continued my research, fascinated at this new kind of sugar-source.

Science Bit: the sugar in birch syrup is fructose rather than sucrose which makes it one of the lowest natural sweeteners on the glycemic index. Where does this expensive, rare kind of syrup come from and why isn't it more popular? The answer to the first question is, "birch forests." Most notably, those of Alaska. The answer to the second question is a little complicated. See, it only takes about forty maple trees to produce a finished gallon of maple syrup. Compare that with the approximately one hundred birch trees tapped to make a finished gallon of birch syrup and you'll understand why a little 3.5 ounce bottle of birch syrup costs just about as much as a bottle of the original frankincense brought by the Magi to the Christ Child. I'm just saying.

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Still, once I'd been introduced to the idea of birch syrup I had to order a bottle and see if it really did taste like spicy and dark like cola, as one source suggested. I cut off my right hand, sold it on the black market, got my funds, bought a bottle of birch syrup from Kahiltna Birchworks, then sat back to wait. The birch syrup shipped the following day. I imagined it traveling all the way across Canada and maybe getting stopped at the border and asked about a visa before finally ending up in my kitchen. When the package arrived I cracked open the bottle, prepared myself mentally, stuck my finger into the dark, goopy syrup and made friends with it. Turns out birch syrup tastes remarkably like molasses: mineral-flecked, rich, dark, cola-like, fruity almost. Strong and, unlike maple syrup, not a girly, pushover flavor. I spent the next few days kerbobbling around with ideas of how I wanted to use my precious store of birch-syrup and I finally came up with something that just screams springtime: a birch-glazed pork tenderloin roast which perfectly flaunts the saucy, strong-willed flavor of the birch syrup. A juicy pork tenderloin is seared on the stove-top, then brushed with spiced syrup and roasted in the oven to finish it off. To further celebrate spring in spite of the current freezing temperatures, I rounded out the meal with a few other nommies too! So if you're looking for an Easter meal that skips out on ham, eggs, and other common flavors and yet still shouts, "SPRING IS HERE," read on!

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 Birch-Glazed Pork Tenderloin 
serves 4-6

1/2 cup pure birch syrup, divided into 1/4 cup portions*
1/2 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 cup arrowroot or cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1.5 pounds all natural pork tenderloin
* if not using birch syrup, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup molasses may be substituted
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. In a glass measuring cup mix together 1/4 cup birch syrup with vinegar, paprika and allspice. Set aside.
  2. Mix together brown sugar, salt, pepper, and arrowroot (or cornstarch). Pat the pork tenderloin dry and sprinkle with mixture, carefully knocking off excess so it doesn't get gummy in the oven!
  3. Heat coconut oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat. When shimmery, add tenderloin and brown on all sides for a total of 4-6 minutes.
  4. Transfer tenderloin to a lightly greased rack set inside a rimmed baking pan.
  5. Pour off excess grease or oil from the skillet, then pour the syrup mixture into the pan and simmer quickly, scraping up browned bits and incorporating. When slightly thickened, brush one half of this mixture over the tenderloin.
  6. Bake the tenderloin in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads about 130 degrees F. Remove from oven and paint with remaining syrup mixture, adding the additional 1/4 cup birch syrup if needed to thin out the cooled, spiced syrup. Allow tenderloin to rest for ten minutes before serving!

- finish it out -
unsweetened iced tea
steamed green peas
garnish with wild chickweed

2 comments:

  1. Love this post. I hope you didn't *really* cut off your hand. That would be a bit much even for birch syrup. That looks very very good though.

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  2. You really have such a fantastic ability to turn food into an adventure. Thanks for sharing -- I'm definitely fired up about spring meals now!
    -Mary

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