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Montenegrin Stuffed Pork Loin

by Florian
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Montenegrin Cuisine - Stuffed Pork Loin

Hot on the heels of my Njeguški Stek, here comes another similar grilled dish! Also made with cheese, cured pork, and a white meat escalope, the stuffed pork loin (punjena vješalica in Montenegrin) can be found everywhere in Serbia and Montenegro, alongside steak, pljeskavica, and ćevapi. This traditional dish no doubt served as an inspiration to Mića Stojanović when he created its Njeguši cousin in the 1980s.

As its rather vague name suggests, the dish can be prepared every which way: cheese inside, cheese outside, wrapped in bacon, bacon on top, smoked ham inside – as long as you start with a thin piece of boneless pork loin, it seems you can’t go wrong! Just see for yourself here or here. Or below, at Restaurant Niagara near Podgorica‘s very own waterfall (where you will note that, as with most grilled meat, fries are a popular garnish):

Or even outside of the Balkans, at Budapest’s Montenegro Gurman. (For those who read my last post – do recognize that little salad on the plate?):

It only makes sense, therefore, that I would come up with my own interpretation, something that reflects my personal experiences in Montenegro. The stuffed pork loin I’m making today is inspired by a meal at Konoba Bandići, just outside of Podgorica. Konoba Bandići, like the better-known Restaurant Niagara above, is the quintessential inland Montenegrin restaurant, combining an idyllic setting in the middle of nature, outdoor seating, mountains of grilled and roasted meat, and freshwater fish (taken straight from their own pond). Sometimes, Konoba Bandići even makes their own wine – the place is located in the Katun wine region, and we had what was apparently their very last bottle of 2016 Vranac.

While waiting for our main courses, we opted for a plate of njeguški pršut and local goat cheese. If the slightly smoked and well marbled pršut was excellent, the big hunk of goat cheese stood out for its originality: rustic, very pungent, semi-soft but with a texture almost like butter, it wasn’t like any goat cheese I’ve ever tasted. I had two great ingredients for a stuffed pork loin right there.

Needless to say, one’s chances of finding any Montenegrin goat cheese outside of Montenegro are rather slim. So the first thing we’ll do is create a goat cheese mixture that approaches what I tasted at Konoba Bandići, using ingredients more readily available in my part of the world. As for the Njeguški pršut, I’ve already mentioned in my Njeguški stek post that Italian speck makes a very decent substitute.

Since I can’t always prepare French fries every time I fire up the grill, this time I’m serving the meat with a red risotto, made with sweet red peppers and tomatoes. I’ve seen several red risottos on restaurant menus during my trip, often made with shellfish. This one trades the seafood for an extra serving of vegetables, giving the dish a bright red-orange color.

Montenegrin Cuisine - Stuffed Pork Loin

Goat cheese mixture
Yields 4 servings

50 g salted goat’s milk butter
75 g ripe Bucheron goat cheese without rind
40 g goat’s milk “Gouda” cheese (such as this one from Cyprus Grove), grated

  • Bring the butter and the cheeses to room temperature. Combine in a bowl, then mash with a fork until homogeneous. Reserve.
  • The mixture can be kept for up to a week; just cover with plastic and refrigerate. Take out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before using.
Montenegrin Food - Goat Cheese Mixture

Stuffed pork loin
Yields 4 servings

4 boneless pork loin chops, about 150 g each
goat cheese mixture
about 150 g Italian speck, thinly sliced

  • Butterfly each pork loin chop with a knife; then, using a meat pounder, flatten between two sheets of plastic film to form a rectangle of approximately 15 cm x 18 cm.
  • Spread the goat cheese mixture onto 2/3 of each piece of meat, with the long edge of the rectangle facing you. Fold the bare third over, and fold again (see pictures below).
  • Overlap several slices of speck to form a rectangle of 16 cm x the length of each slice. Place a stuffed loin chop on top, and roll to wrap the pork in the speck. Wrap tightly in plastic film to achieve a log shape (see pictures below).
  • Repeat with the other pieces of meat, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Oven-roasted tomatoes
Yields 4

12 (about 400 g) cocktail (small) tomatoes
25 g olive oil
salt
black pepper, ground

  • Place the tomatoes in an oven-proof dish. Drizzle with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a 200 C / 400 F oven for about 45 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and sizzling.
  • Reserve in a warm place.

Red risotto
Yields 4 servings

130 g peeled onion, medium dice
6 g peeled garlic, minced
25 g olive oil
270 g red bell pepper, seeded
165 g Arborio rice
165 g white wine
1/2 bay leaf 
salt 
165 g chicken stock

  • In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in half of the oil until soft.
  • Transfer to a blender, add the red pepper and process until smooth. Reserve.
  • In the same saucepan, sauté the rice in the remaining oil for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the white wine and bay leaf, and simmer until reduced by half.
  • Season with salt, add the chicken stock, and simmer gently over medium-low heat, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Add the red pepper purée, and continue simmering until the rice is cooked. The risotto might seem quite liquid, but this is what we want.
  • Remove from heat, and reserve, discarding the bay leaf.
Montenegrin Cuisine - Stuffed Pork Loin

Assembly
Yields 4 servings

canola oil
stuffed pork loin
oven-roasted tomatoes
red risotto
15 g butter
chicken stock (see below)

  • Heat a grill (outdoor grill or grill plate on the stovetop) to the highest possible temperature. Brush the grill with canola oil, and sear the meat on all sides until it reaches an internal temperature of about 40 C / 105 F. Let rest for a few minutes on a rack.
  • Either finish in a 150 C / 300 F oven or return to the grill, setting the meat at a different angle to get nice hatch marks. In either case, cook to an internal temperature of 57 C / 135 F (the meat gets dry if it’s any more cooked than that). Reserve.
  • Reheat the tomatoes in the oven for a couple minutes if needed.
  • Pour the jus from the tomatoes into the risotto, add the butter, and cook for a minute over low heat, stirring constantly. The risotto should be liquid enough that it spreads out when served on a plate; you can add a little bit of chicken stock if needed.
  • Divide the risotto between large plates or soup bowls. Cut each stuffed pork loin in half at an angle, and arrange in the center of a plate. Garnish with the tomatoes, and serve.
Montenegrin Cuisine - Stuffed Pork Loin

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