When it comes to all things meat, I am a bit of a fussy eater, to be honest, or rather a fussy buyer. It's probably something I've inherited from my Mum, who's not a big meat fan at all and would rather keep us on a vegetarian diet for weeks to then splash out on a more expensive cut once a month.
Nowadays, especially with pork, I find it difficult to get my hands on good quality in the UK without paying extortionate prices (only to find out that it is still only average quality) - or maybe it's because I don't have enough experience to know what to buy and how to prepare it... so whenever my family comes to visit I ask my Mum to order some from a small, organic farmer in their area where I know that I am only getting the very best. I usually get my favourite cut for the traditional Austrian Schweinsbraten (roast pork), kilos of lean tenderloin bacon and some pork fillet.
Thick-cut pork medallions (basically chops liberated of their bone and any fat or connective tissue) used to be a special treat for us when we grew up and it was the obvious choice last weekend, when I Mum brought some fillet over. With a simple sherry & cream sauce, this was dinner in a flash and the polenta flan bakes are certainly something I am going to make more often from now on. I find polenta a tad difficult to sell sometimes, with lots of people being turned off by its rather strong taste (compared to bland rice, that is!) and its consistency: I like to cook the polenta either with vegetable stock and butter or add some milk from the beginning, then add some grated parmesan - this makes the taste very mild and suitable even for polenta-loathers. Also, the common practice of spreading it out on a tray and baking it in the oven makes it too dry, I find, so I tried putting it into ramekin dishes, sort of flan style, which makes for a nice crisp topping (or base, once turned out), but keeps the mixture nicely moist and creamy inside... and there wasn't a single complaint heard from the APL (Anti-Polenta League) around the table!
Pork fillet with sherry sauce and polenta flans
1.2 kg pork fillet (whole)
oil for frying
For the polenta flans:
200 g easy-cook polenta
800 ml vegetable stock
25 g butter
50 g freshly grated parmesan
nutmeg, salt & pepper to season
For the polenta flans, pour the boiling stock over the polenta and work in the pot until all the water has been absorbed. (If you can't find easy-cook polenta, prepare to packet instructions, altering the polenta:stock ratio as required.) Stir in the butter, nutmeg and parmesan, then season to taste. Grease 6 high ramekin dishes thickly with butter, then fill with the polenta right up to the rim.
Set aside while you cook the pork.
Clean the pork fillet thoroughly to remove any fat and membranes. Cut into thick medallions (ca. 4-5 cm), then thinly spread mustard on one side. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a heavy-based pan** until very hot, add the medallions, mustard side down, in batches and fry on all sides until well sealed and browned. Remove from the pan, wrap in aluminium foil and transfer to a pre-heated oven (200 C). Repeat until all the medallions are fried, adding more oil as necessary.
At this point, put the ramekins with the polenta in the oven as well, baking for 15 - 20 minutes, until crisping on top and starting to brown.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce. While the pan is still hot, remove any excess oil, but keep enough to fry the crushed garlic until browning. Deglaze with the sherry and cook vigorously to let the alcohol evaporate. Keep stirring to pick up all the meat juices and brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
When the sherry is reduced by about half (this won't take more than 5 minutes), add the cream and some stock granules, then stir thoroughly. Season to taste. Remove from the heat and pass through a sieve (alternatively, whizz through it with a hand-held blender to get rid of any solids).
Return to the (wiped) pan and re-heat, adding thickening granules until you achieve the desired consistency.
Turn the polenta flans out onto dining plates, then divide the pork medallions between the dishes, spooning the sauce over the meat to taste.
Serve with greens (broccoli, beans, etc) or a fresh salad.
* I know this quick and easy method for a sauce to accompany meat defies all traditional methods... ever since I discovered thickening granules, I don't bother with mounting the sauce with butter anymore - this makes for a much leaner sauce, is less temperamental (no splittingor curdling!) and it's much faster as well. I also have no qualms to use stock granules rather than reducing stock for hours... call me lazy, but the taste tells a different story!
** I have found that in order to prevent the pork from sweating and shrinking excessively, you need to a) avoid non-stick pans b) make sure that your oil is very, very hot and c) fry it in batches so you can keep the number of medallions in the pan to a minimum. Adding too much meat will cool down the oil too much for it to effectively seal the juices - you need to flash-fry to achieve that effect, which requires very hot oil.