|Pork Tenderloin served over Israeli Couscous|
Loin vs. Tenderloin
First of all, let's not confuse pork tenderlin" with "pork loin." Both are delicious cuts recipes for one can be adapted to the other, but they are quite different. Pork loin is a long tubular cut of meat about 4 to 6 inches in diameter. A whole loin is over two feet long, but most butchers cut it into shorter roasts that look like small logs. It is often sold with a cap of fat left on top and tied with butcher's twine.
Tenderloin is a much smaller piece of meat. It's usually no more than 2 inches in diameter and less than a foot long. One end is fat and it tapers down to a point. It's extremely lean and naturally tender because it sits under neat the loin up against the rib cage, so it does very little work when the animal walks. On a cow, the tenderloin is sold as fillet, the most expensive cut. On a pig, it's usually cheaper than bacon, making it a great bargain. On a chicken, it's the cut that becomes chicken fingers.
Pink is Okay
Let's get this out of the way upfront. If you want to make excellent, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin, you need to get over your fear of eating slightly pink pork. If you want to cook it until completely white, you can do it, but it won't be nearly as good and you're much more likely to end-up with dry meat. There's a very fine line between well-done and dry with this cut and I don't think I've ever nailed it, myself.
Cooking pork to well-done was born in the 1960's and 70's from fear of the parasite "trichinosis." However, even the CDC's own website says, "Successful trichinae control programs by the U.S. pork industry have nearly eliminated the disease in domestic swine raised in confinement..." So, if you're going to buy your pork from a commercial source, it's pretty safe to eat your pork cooked to medium, which is just right for this cut, in my opinion.
How to Cook It
I'm going to give you a recipe, but here are a few of tips and tricks that you can use whenever cooking a pork tenderloin:
- Don't buy it pre-marinated. Why? The ingredients list should be reason enough. You can't pronounce half of the ingredients and it's incredibly easy to toss together your own simple marinade. Also, this is not a cut of eat that needs a lot of flavor added to it. It tastes pretty good on its own with salt and pepper.
- Marinate a minimum of 30 minutes up to overnight in a simple vinaigrette or just herbs and oil with salt and pepper. That's it. it's really that simple.
- Treat this cut like you would a steak. Sear it on all sides, either on a grill or in an oven-safe pan, and then finish it in the oven or on a cooler side of the grill. If you need to, remove it from the heat after searing and allow the pan or grill to cool down before finishing.
- Use a meat thermometer. As I mentioned above, there's literally a difference of less than 5 minutes of cooking between done and overdone. A meat thermometer will help you nail your target consistently every time.
- Cook until 5 to 10 degrees less than your final temperature (135 degrees) and let rest with a loose piece of foil on top. It will coast another 10 degrees on the counter for a final temp of about 145. A simple instant read thermometer should be in every kitchen (like this one). If you want absolute insurance, get a remote probe thermometer that you can keep in the meat and it'll beep when it's done.
- Serve it with a simple starch and vegetable. Mashed potatoes are great here, giving you the same "meat and potatoes" comfort feeling as roast beef or pot roast.
- Tenderloins are usually sold as a two-pack in a cryo-vac package. They're often swimming in a slippery pink juice that is basically dissolved meat proteins. I like to open up the pack when I get it home, drain the juice, pat the loins dry, then wrap them separately in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. When I'm ready to make one, I pop it in the microwave for a few minutes on medium power to defrost it. You can also defrost it in the fridge overnight or all day.
Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Garlic, Herbs, and Sundried Tomatoes
Note: The herbs, garlic and tomatoes in this recipe are just made for swapping-out. I've done garlic and rosemary. You could use some citrus zest and juice. You could even tip in some spicy-hot things from your pantry. The sky is the limit. Just keep the oil since it helps carry the flavor (many seasonings are oil-soluble) and the salt and pepper.
1 pork tenderloin
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon dried Italian Seasoning (herbs only, no salt)
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
10 sundried tomatoes (approximately)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1) Add everything but the tenderloin to a gallon zip-top bag. Close the bag and mix the ingredients up.
2) Open the bag and add the tenderloin. Re-close the bag, removing as much air as possible. Squish the ingredients around in the bag to coat the meat. Allow to marinate on the counter up to 45 minutes or place in a shallow pan in the refrigerator (to prevent leakage) and marinate up to 24 hours.
3) When ready to cook, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat an oven-safe pan (cast iron works great) on the stove top on medium-high heat. Using tongs, remove the meat from the bag, leaving most of the oil and seasonings behind. Place in hot pan and brown evenly on all sides.
4) Once meat is browned, remove pan from the burner. Allow sizzling to calm a bit and add the remaining contents of the bag to the pan. Using tongs, place the tomatoes on top of the pork to keep them from burning in the bottom of the pan.
5) If using a probe thermometer, place the probe into the meat, trying to get the tip of the probe in the center of the meat towards the thicker end. Place the pan in the pre-heated oven and roast until the center of the meat reaches 135 degrees.
6) Remove the meat from the oven, cover loosely with a piece of foil, and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice thinly with a sharp knife and serve with a starch and vegetable of your choice. Center of the thickest part should be just slightly pink and very juicy.