Fruit on my tenderloins
My sister said last week that even though she'd long-ago given up on cooking pork tenderloins because there is no way to cook one without it coming out like a dry tree branch, The Pioneer Woman's Pork Loin with Cranberry Sauce had made her waver in that conviction, and she was considering trying it. I took a look at the recipe and reported that while I have not given up on the pork T, the recipe in question did not inspire me to cook a loin anytime soon. You see, I don't like fruit on my meat. You can keep your apples when you cook my pork roast. You can save your cherries from the ham. And I don't need any cranberry stuff on top of my pork loin.
She countered that it wasn't really a sweet sauce, but rather a mix of sweet and savory, and it looked pretty good, but I stood firm to my conviction (unlike my wavering sister to hers) that meat and fruit do not go. I realize I am in the minority on this. I'm just sayin'. Also, I'd like to make a disclaimer for pineapple, because it goes with EVERYTHING. Always.
So anyway, this got me thinking about her earlier point that the pork tenderloin was dead to her, because it is always dry and personality-less. I decided that I begged to differ.
However, there are a few rules to the pork tenderloin to keep in mind.
1) Forget what your mother said about cooking pork until it's done. It's totally fine, SAFE, and delicious to cook it to just pink inside.
2) Marinate, marinate, marinate.
3) Avoid the pre-seasoned ones. I think there's something in that stuff that makes the meat mealy. Maybe it's too much salt, or some sort of chemically injected flavor enhancer - I can't be sure.
4) When you buy a pork tenderloin, be sure to look at the ingredient list and make sure there's nothing there but pork, pork, and more pork. Any additives will screw up your meat. Costco's double cryo-vac pacs are great.
Some people will tell you to brine a pork tenderloin to keep it juicy, but I disagree. I tried it a few times and got a weird texture out of the deal. Plus, you're getting dangerously close to ham at that point.
The trick is to cook quickly and hot.
Step 1) Marinate - preferably overnight.
Step 2) Remove the silverskin (membrane) if there is one. Optional: sear the meat on the stovetop. I can't tell a difference with this, so I skip it.
Step 3) Cook at 425 degrees until the center is 135 degrees, which should take about 20 minutes. Turn it at least once during the cooking. Be sure to keep an eye on the temp as the cooking time adjusts depending on the size of your tenderloin. This is definitely a case of "size matters".
Step 4) Remove from the oven, cover with foil, and wait for ten minutes. The temp should rise to 145 degrees or so in that time, which is plenty hot for pork, no matter what your granny says.
Step 5) Slice into medallions and serve.
So now that you know how to do it, let's discuss the fun part: FLAVOR.
I have several favorite pork tenderloin recipes. I'm not willing to give up on this cut of meat for several reasons. I think it takes on flavors very well. I also like that it cooks in under twenty minutes, and is also a cut of meat that is fairly quick to thaw. I can have a pork tenderloin meal on the table, then, with very little advance notice, and that makes me pretty stinkin' happy.
I have oft made this recipe from Martha Stewart, but it's a little labor-intensive, hence, nullifying the "quick and easy" appeal of the pork T.
For a quicker, but still semi-gourmet approach, try this recipe for which I have to give partial credit to my friend Texas Dave. He came up with the stuffing. Of course, he's a guy, so he marinates everything in Italian dressing. I think we can do better than that.
Megan's Whiskey Pork Tenderloin Marinade
2 T Worcestershire
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T Dijon mustard
2 T olive oil
1/4 C Jack Daniels
2 T brown sugar
1 tsp onion powder
Cover the tenderloin completely with this and seal it in a bag just big enough for the loin to fit into. Refrigerate overnight.
Texas Dave's Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
1/2 C chopped onion
3 ancho chilis, roughly chopped
3/4 C pepper jack cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cut a slit the length of the loin, about half way in. Stuff with the above ingredients, and tie it with string. Cook according to my above instructions.
Or, you might want something a little fancier for a holiday feast. In that case, you can't go wrong with a Gorgonzola sauce poured over your medallions. Use my marinade, but instead of stuffing it, whip up this sauce and pour it on in front of your guests while it is still piping hot.
3 T butter
2 T flour
2 T good mustard (not the bright yellow stuff)
1/2 C cider or white wine
1/2 C heavy cream or half n half
1 C gorgonzola
Step 1) melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and then add the flour and whisk.
Step 2) Add half and half, whisk madly. Then add the cider or wine and stir.
Step 3) Add the mustard and gorgonzola and stir until the cheese is melted. If you need more liquid, use more of the cream.
Step 4) Serve immediately.
If you must have cranberries or other fruit in your dishes, mix some dried berries in with wild rice as a side dish, or throw some apples and walnuts into your salad. Please, though, for the name of all that is holy about food, don't drench your meat in sweet. It is, in a word, WRONG.