May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.
"One of my closest friends jokes that I'm a pyromaniac, but I'm really not," chef Jose Garces says with a laugh, as he mans a grill on a chilly Soho rooftop.
The nine-foot grill at his latest restaurant, Rural Society, may not support his case, but we'll take his word for it. At the Argentine-style parrilla, which has locations in Chicago and Washington, D.C., nearly all of the dishes are cooked over a combination of hardwood charcoal, hickory and white oak.
Recently Garces grilled outdoors in 50-degree "springtime" weather, brazenly wearing a short-sleeved shirt despite the chill. As Argentine pamplona de puerco (see the recipe) sizzled over the coals, he shared why cooking over live fire is a thrill for him.
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"I love knowing how to build the perfect heat source, with three temperatures: hot, medium and cool," Garces says, turning the rolled pork tenderloin to get an even sear. "The grill is a social place. I like to have a cutting board next to it, with some sauce, so it's almost a little slicing station where guests can snack on things."
Garces' rolled pork starts with a butterflied tenderloin that he seasons and stuffs with aged provolone cheese, green olives, roasted red peppers and a little parsley. After rolling, wrapping and chilling it (so that it doesn't come undone while it's cooking), he throws the pamplona on the hottest part of the grill to sear the outside, then moves it to medium heat for another 6 to 8 minutes.
Once the tenderloin rests for a few minutes, Garces cuts the showstopping roll into mosaic-like slices, each one filled with a bit of oozy cheese, olives, peppers and herbs. He serves it, as he would at a party, with some salsa criolla (a cold sauce traditionally made with peppers, tomato, onion and vinegar) and vibrant, parsley-flecked chimichurri.
"With two tenderloins, you could feed six to eight people," Garces says. "The dish is something unexpected: There's something magical when you put cheese and pork together. And you get all the layers of flavor together in one perfect bite."
We're ready to pig out, Argentine-style.
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