(THE NEW YORK TIMES) - Butterfly wings are delicate things, diaphanous and fragile and nothing at all like the large, fat-veined chunk of boneless pork loin I had spread out on my cutting board one recent afternoon.
Yet, I kept the butterfly in mind as I prepared the pork, slicing through the loin so I could quickly grill it to feed a crowd.
I was, to use the butchering term, butterflying the loin, a simple technique of cutting lengthwise through any thick boneless piece of meat until you have almost halved it, but not quite, leaving it attached on one side. When you open up the halves, they should resemble the symmetrical wings of a butterfly. At least in theory.
With an oval chicken breast, this imagery holds if you squint a little.
But with a cylindrical pork loin (or a lopsided leg of lamb for that matter), butterflies are merely a poetic notion. Another analogy is to think of opening the cut piece of meat like a book. In the case of a 1.8kg pork loin, picture a nice big tome - Moby-Dick, perhaps.
The advantage of this kind of trimming is that the slimmed-down slab of meat will cook faster. For my pork loin, this means less than 30 minutes on the grill, instead an hour or more in the oven. (Do not substitute pork tenderloin, as it is an entirely different cut.)
If you have access to a butcher, he can butterfly the meat for you. But if it is the supermarket, buy a boneless pork loin and cut it yourself. It is not at all hard to do if you have a sharp knife.
I like to marinate butterflied pork loin with plenty of garlic, herbs, cumin and lemon. But you can adapt the basic cooking technique and flavour it any which way. Or leave it plain and porky, rubbing it down with salt and a little pepper.
Season the meat at least a few hours in advance. As the salt dissolves and forms a brine, it helps the pork retain its moisture.
Then, do not overcook it. Pull the meat off the grill when it is still medium rare (135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), so it stays nice and juicy and beautifully pink in the centre.
A grilled pork loin may not be fluttery or delicate, but it is hearty and luscious enough to satisfy a hungry crowd.
Grilled Pork Loin With Herbs, Cumin and Garlic
1.5 to 1.8kg boneless pork loin, trimmed of some but not all fat
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons, plus more lemon wedges for serving
8 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
⅓ cup packed fresh basil leaves and tender stems, plus more for garnish
⅓ cup packed parsley leaves and tender stems
3 Tbs fresh marjoram or oregano leaves
3 Tbs cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 Tbs thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ Tbs kosher salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper
Large pinch red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
1. Butterfly the pork by slicing through it horizontally until you almost cut through, but leaving it attached on one side. Open the meat like a book. Depending on the cut, it should be about 2.5 to 5cm in thickness.
2. In a blender, puree all of the remaining ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to get a smooth paste. (Add a little water if needed to make the mixture move.) Spread herb paste all over the pork, making sure to cover it thoroughly and evenly. Place the meat in a large resealable plastic bag (folding it back together like a closed book if necessary to fit it in the bag) and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least eight hours, or up to 48 hours.
3. Light the grill or heat to medium. Lay the pork out on the grill so it lies flat (like an open book). Cover grill and let cook until char marks appear on one side, for seven to 12 minutes. Use tongs and a large spatula to flip the meat. Continue to cook on the other side until the centre of the meat registers 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for medium doneness, for about five to eight minutes longer. (The pork will continue to cook as it rests.)
4. Transfer the meat to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
5. Serve the pork slices garnished with red pepper flakes, lemon wedges, and basil and thyme leaves.