Monday, March 1, 2010

Maple syrup pork roulade--homage a Maillard

You could say that Camille Maillard got me into medical school. He also helped to get me through it. Disregard the fact that he was born over 100 years before me, in France, and died alone while on a jury in Paris in 1936. While I adore the other Frenchman of his time notably Debussy, Ravel and Saint-Saens who certainly provided sexier and more impassioned contributions to society, Camille Maillard’s work brought me to the laboratory and taught me the importance of diligence, mentorship and hard work.

Camille Maillard penned the Maillard reaction, the long chain of reactions between an amino acid or protein and a sugar. The chain reaction results in browning and formation of complex chemical compounds called advanced glycation end products. While this all seems drab and dreary, in fact the Maillard reaction is an important player in both food and medicine.

The Maillard reaction explains why a chicken turns brown and delicious when you slather it with maple syrup or honey and bake it (although this is also due to caramelization which is a different chemical process). The reaction also has important implications in diseases such as diabetes. When we measure the hemoglobin A1C to keep track of how well somebody controls their diabetes, we measure an end-product of the Maillard reaction. Much of the end organ damage in diabetes can be contributed to excess glucose reacting with proteins in the microvasculature.

My work with the Maillard reaction involved test tubes—lots of them. There were enough test tubes full of solutions in varying shades of brown, champagne and yellowish beige to swear off of test tubes for life after I finished college. The research was repetitive and I don’t think I was very good at it. The experience wasn’t apparently life-changing.

What made my research exceptional was my wonderful mentor. He treated me as a peer, worked with me in the lab, and even washed my test tubes (which is so SO embarrassing…I’m sorry Roger!) I felt encouraged to keep going, to keep track of my work, and I to write that damn thesis. Hey Rog, will you make me write my medical school one too? When I started slacking he gently suggested getting back on it, and when I was really lazy he got mad and I deserved it. When I wanted to play piano for a term instead of do lab work, he let me, and when it was time to give a 20 minute presentation on my research, he stayed late repeatedly and made me practice.

I always knew I was lucky to have such a dedicated teacher. While I’ve had plenty of guidance and support in medical school, there’s nothing that even broaches the level of professional companionship of my undergraduate education. As I soon find out where I will spend the next four years of intensive training, I can only hope to have mentors that care not only about the work that I do, but about the beliefs, values and interests I have. I wish for everybody reading to have somebody a few years ahead to pick you up, guide you through, and seriously hurt you if you start acting like an idiot.

The following recipe is more complicated and time consuming than the average one that I post, but the result is spectacularly beautiful and delicious. It embodies the maple syrupy spiciness of New England (where I went to college) and it utilizes Dr. Maillard’s work with an overnight sugary marinade to promote slow browning before the meat is baked. It is a meal unto itself, and should be used for a celebration of someone special. The recipe ideally takes two days, so plan ahead! If you don’t eat pork, you could always use chicken breasts, just make mini-rolls applying similar principles.

Elizabeth’s Maillard-y Meat—Sweet spicy Pork roulade

2 lbs pork loin boneless rib roast
¼ cup maple syrup
2 carrots
1 fennel bulb
Kitchen twine
Awesome surgical knots!

For spice rub
½ tsp whole fennel seed
½ tsp whole coriander seed
2 cloves
½ tsp chipotle powder
¼ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp whole black peppercorns

For stuffing:
4 tbsp butter, divided
½ medium onion, finely diced
Zest of 1 orange
3 slices stale white bread (I just used 2 hot dog buns)
½ cup cooked brown rice
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup parsley

For the sauce:
Juice of 1 orange
¼ cup sherry
½ tbs white wine vinegar

One day ahead:
Blend spices in mortar and pestle or spice grinder until fine.

To butterfly the pork, put pork on cutting board so the long end runs perpendicular to your body. Make initial cut along the grain of the tenderloin about 1/3 of the way over and cut down until there is only about an inch/inch and a half remaining.

Continue to cut laterally along the bottom so that you have one piece of pork that is about an inch thick. Cover the long piece of meat with saran wrap and beat the daylights out of it with a meat mallet or rolling pin. The goal is to get the pork to be about 1/3 inch thick, so this will take some serious muscle. If you can only get it down to about ½ an inch, continue the following steps and then beat it some more after it has marinated the following day. It helps to attack it from both sides, so flip the meat during the beating and beat it some more. After the meat has been flattened, massage the spice rub into the meat on both sides. Then massage the maple syrup onto both sides. Cover and chill overnight.

The day of:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the stuffing. To make the stuffing, bake the bread at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes to dry it out completely and then in a food processor, pulse until bread is small crumbs. Saute the onion in 1 tbs of the butter until browned. Melt the other 3 tbs of butter in the microwave. To the food processor, add the rice, parsley, orange peel, onion and butter and pulse 4-5 times until everything is incorporated.

With a mandoline set to 1/8th inch settings, slice the carrots lengthwise and in ½ inch water, blanch them on high heat, covered for one minute. Also with mandoline, slice the fennel to yield about 1 cup (you don’t need to slice up the whole thing)

Remove the meat from the refrigerator. If you think it needs to be thinner, hit it with the meat mallet a couple more times (make sure you cover it with plastic wrap because I got porky, spicy syrup all over my clothes).  Preheat cast iron pan and add 1 tbsp veggie oil.  Sear meat about 2 minutes on each side.  For me, the meat was so long that I had to do it in 4 parts with half of it dangling over the edge of the pan. Take the stuffing and press all along the surface of the meat into an even layer. Then alternate the carrots and fennel along the short axis of the meat.

Here comes the fun part. It is important to roll the meat tightly and not let anything fall out. Once you have rolled the meat, then take 4-5 long pieces of string and starting in the middle, tie solid knots to hold the meat in place (two handed surgical knots work best). You could use one long piece of string, but it is harder with the roll than with a normal piece of meat.

Put thermometer in meat and place in dutch oven or roasting pan and cover. Cook until internal temp registers between 155-160. Take meat out, tent with foil and allow to rest. To make sauce with drippings, place pan on stove over medium heat, add sherry, vinegar and orange juice and allow to reduce. Carefully slice meat, spoon with sauce, and eat!


  1. Great post and recipe!

  2. thanks! my friend asked me if she could make it without awesome surgical knots. you can, of course, but it's not quite as fun!

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