Normally, a crown roast is a holiday sort of dish–its an impressive presentation for a glorious cut of meat, shaped to resemble a crown. You have a tender, succulent cut of both the loin and ribs, loaded with (typically) a very flavorful stuffing. Pork, lamb, and veal are the common options. Whatever meat you go with, a crown roast is easy to cook, looks awesome, and serves a good number of people–hence the holiday popularity. I had no special occasion for this though beyond stumbling across a nice cut of pork that I decided I must eat, lol. So eager to take on a more butchery-centric project, I focused on more summery flavors to make this pork shine.
This was an incredible dinner. You have the tenderloin–meaty and soft–mixed with the juicy, unctuous, richly porky flavored rib meat. Its like having a super pork chop. I’d compare it to eating chicken thighs/drum sticks cooked separately compared to when you cook a whole bird and eat only the thigh/drum sticks. There’s something about cooking larger pieces of meat all at once that yields a more intensely rich flavor and this is one of those dishes. You just don’t get this with everyday pork chops.
The meat had a great flavor, and with a simple spice rub (focused on pepper and juniper), you had a nice spice accent that didn’t detract from the pork. I chose to fill the roast with a stuffing focusing on tarter varieties of tomatoes (a mix of yellow and green varieties rather than sweeter red kinds) and peppers (both sweet and hot) since they’re very in season now. I also threw in some cheese because…well, its cheese. This trio gave the stuffing a nice tang that I found to be a great compliment to pork. I brought this all together with a simple gravy made of pan drippings and juniper berries for a rich but clean flavor. The total combination on one fork was luxurious and begs for a crisp white wine to cut the richness that lingers on your palette.
Like I said earlier, this is a dish that is by no means difficult to cook. The real feat is the butchery. Now if you have a good butcher, there’s a chance you can order the roast pre-trimmed, shaped and everything, but really, that’s all the fun behind making this dish and I’d rather do it myself. Otherwise, its kind of like buying a jar of tomato sauce, opening it, and saying you made it since you warmed it up. Despite all the naysayers you’ll find on the internet, its honestly not all that difficult…plus, it makes the end result all the more impressive when you can say you made it. Try it!
- 1 Pork rib roast (~11 ribs, 5-6+ lbs)
- ground thyme
- fennel seeds
- 5 juniper berries
- 10 black peppercorns
- 2-3 Tbsp lard/butter
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 leeks
- ~3-4 cups diced tart tomatoes (I used lemon boy and green zebra)
- mix of 4 sweet and hot peppers
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 cups bread
- (ground up scraps from trimming the pork)
- 5-7 oz farmer’s cheese (or whatever, melting friendly, creamy cheese you like)
- 2 eggs
- Juniper Gravy
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup drippings
- 2.5-3 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 juniper berries
Firstly, drop a small chunk of change on a good rib roast. I’ve found a local pig farmer I’m very happy to support and love the quality of their meat. My cut does not have the chine bone included, but yours might, and if so, remove it (it would be at the bottom of the roast).
The first step is to clean up the ribs. Score a bit between each and trim back the fat cap so you can actually see the ribs (initially, they’ll be buried under fat).
Trim the fat and flesh off of the ribs for a length of roughly an inch or two. Run your knife under the flesh a bit down the length of the rib and give each one a firm yank to slightly loosen them a bit from the flesh, but do not tear them out and majorly dislodge them. You just want to loosen things up. Also, all this fat and flesh you’re trimming? Hang on to it. We’ll use it later in the stuffing.
You’ll also probably notice a thin membrane along the inner curve of the rib roast. Just like when you’re smoking ribs, I think its a good idea to run your knife around the edge, grab it with a paper towel (its a lot easier to get a good grip this way), and tear it off like a big sheet of plastic wrap. Discard the membrane.
At this point, there’s not a whole lot of work left. Score the meat roughly an inch or two deep between each rib. You need to do this so that you can curl the roast such that the fat cap is inside the “crown.” Once you score the meat, try to wrap the roast in a circle–if it doesn’t seem to want to budge, go back and score the meat a little deeper and try again.
Finally, you can form the final shape. Armed with twine and/or some skewers, shape the roast as a circle (making the crown shape) so that both ends touch. Tie tightly with the twine and force the skewers through if you want a little extra support to help the meat keep its shape. I, of course, forgot to plan ahead and had only skewers and no twine, but hey, it worked out pretty well nonetheless.
So now, breathe a sigh of relief–you’ve done most of the hard work! In a bowl, coarsely crush the dry spices and mix them with the slightly melted oil (I had lard, you could use butter if you don’t have any handy). With this paste ready to go, slather it all over the roast. And now, you wait for about an hour or two with the roast at room temperature.
Finally, stick the crown in a roasting pan (I stuck some of the scraps under the roast to prevent the bottom from burning) and put it in a 450°F oven for 20 minutes, after which, you should drop the temperature to 300°F for roughly 1.5-2.5 hours (you want a 150°F internal temperature in the thickest part–judge by this, NOT the clock). Once cooked through, let the roast rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
While the pork is roasting, you can get to work on the stuffing (and yes, I guess it is a misnomer and should be called dressing since it is cooked separately from the meat). Finely dice the leeks, garlic, peppers, and herbs. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, and cut the bread into ~1/2 inch cubes (or grind it up to crumbs in your food processor–depends on how stale/fresh your bread is. I always have stale bread handy for breadcrumbs). Lastly, grind up the leftover pork trimmings from earlier. Yes, a lot of it might be fat and there probably isn’t a whole lot of meat in there. Just grind it–don’t pick through it.
In a medium high heat pan, add the butter followed by the ground pork trimmings. It won’t be long before the fat renders out and the meat starts cooking. Once browned through, add the leeks and peppers. Sauté for roughly 8 minutes, add the garlic for a minute further, and finally, add the tomatoes. Simmer on medium heat for roughly 10 minutes to cook some of the liquid out of the tomatoes. Add the herbs, salt, and pepper.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs. In a large bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the cooked vegetable/pork mixture. Toss this about until evenly mixed. Mix in the eggs and crumbled chunks of cheese quickly and spread this mixture into a well buttered baking pan. Transfer to the oven for roughly an hour (while your pork is cooking).
While the pork roast is resting (shortly after you removed it from the oven, you can plate it and load the central cavity up with stuffing. I put it on a bed of Bibb lettuce because I just happened to have some handy. There’s really not much fussing you need to do at this point–the roast looks pretty darn good on its own.
Finally, one last step before you can eat though: the gravy! This is an easy quicky you should do close to serving time. In a saucepan, warm 1/3 cup of the drippings from the pork roast over medium heat before you add the flour. Whisk for roughly 5 minutes to form a slightly tan roux. Beat in the white wine, stock, salt, pepper, and smashed juniper berries, continuing to cook for roughly 5-10 minutes more until nicely thickened.
For my side dish, I cooked some fresh butter beans, and if I were hungrier, I had a mix of small potatoes ready to sauté as well. When its time to eat, simply carve the roast into individual chops, give a good heap of stuffing with each plate, and pass the gravy around. Enjoy!