This post is sponsored by ALDI as a part of the Healthier Holiday series. Check out my first post featuring healthy holiday appetizer ideas.
It’s the season of holiday parties, family feasts and indulgent meals. The good news is that indulgent doesn’t have to be synonymous with diet-breaking butter, cream and cheese. Indulgent can mean aesthetically pleasing food featuring delicious pairings of flavors and high-quality, healthy ingredients.
One of my favorite ways to dress up a main dish while keeping it relatively healthy is to stuff it with a flavorful filling. From chicken to peppers to squash to meatloaf…everything feels a little more special when stuffed. It makes for a beautiful presentation while giving the dish more depth.
It’s easy to turn to chicken breasts when you think about stuffing meats but I think that pork loins are a great alternative. They are not only festive for the holidays given their size and presentation but also a healthier option. Did you know that a four-ounce serving of boneless pork loin only contains somewhere around 150-175 calories and 5-7 grams of fat? Combine that with healthy stuffing ingredients like butternut squash, apples, onions and cranberries and you’ve got a pretty healthy but seemingly indulgent holiday meal.
I developed a cider brined pork loin stuffed with butternut squash, apples and cranberries and topped with a cider sauce using ingredients I found at my local ALDI store. This is not only a healthier way to feed a crowd but an economical one as well. Shopping at ALDI saves me so much money when entertaining and cooking for a crowd. I spent around $25 on the ingredients for this dish (including brine, pork, stuffing and sauce) and it produced 10-12 generous servings. That comes out to a little over $2 per serving which is pretty awesome for a holiday meal.
Brining is simply soaking meat in a mixture of water and salt. I made an apple cider brine of cider, water, brown sugar, salt and spices and let the pork loin sit in the brine overnight.
The benefit of brining is that it helps reduce moisture loss when meat is cooked and gives you juicier, more tender meat. Read all about the science behind brining in this article from Fine Cooking.
I butterflied the pork loin before placing it in the brine to prepare it for stuffing. This is super simple to do. You just place the pork loin on its side and slice down the middle without cutting all the way through. Then just open the pork like a book and it’s ready to go!
My stuffing mixture was a seasonal blend of sauteed butternut squash, apples, onions and cranberries.
After removing the pork from the brine and patting it dry, I seasoned it with salt and freshly ground pepper. I layered the stuffing mixture and some fresh chopped herbs over the pork.
And then rolled it up and secured it in six places with kitchen twine.
I basted the pork with pan juices a few times while it was cooking. After about an hour in the oven the result was a beautiful, golden brown pork loin.
I removed the pork loin from the pan and let it rest while I made a quick apple cider sauce out of the drippings. I sliced the pork, arranged it on a platter and drizzled it with the apple cider sauce. This dish looks beautiful on a platter and holds/reheats well. It would be great for a family dinner, holiday buffet or to take to gathering to share. I can assure you that it tastes as great as it looks. Thanks to the brine the pork wasn’t dry at all and had a great flavor. The stuffing and cider sauce only enhanced the deliciousness even more!
Here’s the recipe!
Cider Brined Pork Loin Stuffed with Butternut Squash, Apples and Cranberries
(Recipe developed by Jen DeCurtins, Peanut Butter Runner)
FOR THE BRINE
2 cups hot water
1/3 cup Stonemill Essentials salt
1/3 cup Baker’s Corner Light Brown Sugar, packed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
3 cups Nature’s Nectar apple cider
2 cups ice water
FOR THE STUFFING AND PORK
1 boneless pork loin (2-3 pounds)
1 tablespoon Carlini olive oil
1 small butternut squash, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 apple, diced
1/4 cup Southern Grove dried cranberries
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
Salt and pepper, to taste
FOR THE CIDER SAUCE
Pan drippings with fat poured off
3 tablespoons Baker’s Corner flour
1 1/2 cups Nature’s Nectar apple cider
1 cup Fit & Active Reduced Sodium chicken broth
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE BRINE
Butterfly the pork loin by turning it on its side and slicing down the center, careful not to cut all the way through. Open the pork up like a book and place in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Mix together hot water, salt, brown sugar, herbs, spices, cider and ice water and pour brine over pork. Refrigerate for 8-12 hours, turning a few times. Remove pork from brine, rinse with cool water and pat dry.
FOR THE STUFFING AND PORK
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil until thinned and shimmering. Add squash, onions, apples and cranberries and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes, or until squash, apples and onions are softer in consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place pork on a large work surface like an open book. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread stuffing mixture across the pork and top with chopped herbs. Working slowly, bring together the two ends of the pork and secure with kitchen twine, starting at one end and working down to the other. If you lose any filling here, just stuff it back in the sides.
Place pork in a large baking dish to cook and into preheated oven. The pork loin should take anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes to cook, depending on the size of your roast. Spoon the pan drippings on the pork loin an few times during cooking to baste the meat. The pork is done when the internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees and is firm to the touch.
Remove pork from pan and drape with foil. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.
FOR THE GRAVY
Pour a little bit of the fat off the pan drippings and add them to a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add flour and whisk to combine and to create a roux. Slowly add cider and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed and brighten up with a squeeze of lemon juice if needed.
Yield: 10-12 servings