Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In praise of Pork Tenderloin

The other day I was at Michael Ruhlman's site, viewing a thread about staple meals . It's a great read in that it shows the diversity of what home cooks make daily, and how we define comfort food along with numerous other insights.

The post took me back to a conversation I'd had at work recently with our very own Homesick Texan floor manager about pork tenderloin and its' diversity. I love all thinks porky, chops, roasts, charcuterie etc. in all manners of preparation but pork tenderloin may well be one of my favourite cuts because it is so simple, so affordable yet can make such a grand entrance. In these times of rapidly spiraling grocery prices the noble pork tenderloin can still regularly be had for around $4.50 a pound, and since there is little or no waste in the tenderloin that means protein for four can hit the table for significantly less than $10 for a premium cut. Just try doing that with beef or fish and you will quickly come to appreciate the value of pork tenderloin.

Pork tenderloin is a boneless cut taken from the inside of the loin, the yellow area in the photo above, and as such is very lean and tender but it does need a bit of trimming. When you look at the tenderloin you will see bits of fat, which may or may not be trimmed depending on your preference, but also some areas covered in a shiny membrane, known as silverskin, which may at first glance look like fat but must be trimmed away. The silverskin is a ligament like membrane that is very tough when cooked and takes no time to remove, I use a boning knife, because it bends with the tenderloin, and just slide the tip under the silverskin and trim it away. As you get experienced with trimming the silverskin you can generally remove it with minimal loss of meat, maybe half an ounce in total.

Once it's trimmed of silverskin your tenderloin is ready for prep, so what to do ? There are many ways to deal with pork tenderloin, from marinades to dry rubs, and many ways to cook it, grilled, pan seared, roasted, sliced in medallions, whole ...... whatever. Many years ago I read a statement by Julia Child that you should treat pork tenderloin the same as beef tenderloin, simply and with high heat, and so that's what I generally do.

My "go to" pork tenderloin prep calls for a trimmed loin, I then use the tip of my knife to make a dozen or so small cuts in the loin into which I put slivers of raw garlic. I then rub the loin with a mix of coarse salt, black pepper, dry mustard powder and fresh sage and let it come to room temperature while I preheat an oven to 375. When oven, and pork, are at the correct temperature I heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil and unsalted butter, once the butter froths I add the tenderloin and get a nice sear on all sides, about 3-4 minutes in total. When the tenderloin is seared I put the pan in the oven for about 15 minutes, I like my pork tenderloin with some pink in it so I generally check it around 13 minutes, we want the internal temperature between 135-140 degrees. Once the pork is done take it out and let it rest while you deglaze the pan over a medium high burner with white wine, or stock, then add a knob of butter to the pan jus stirring quickly and remove from the heat. Slice the pork diagonally into medallions, pour the "sauce" over and garnish with a bit more fresh sage and it's a pretty impressive plate that takes about 40 minutes from fridge to table.

Serve the tenderloin with any food friendly red with a reasonable fruit level, Rhone Valley wines or Spanish Garnachas or Tempranillos are nice, or even a dry style of Chenin Blanc and enjoy.

So there it is, my "go to" pork tenderloin recipe, use it, don't use it but there it is. Next time you're thinking about what you can put on the table in a hurry that will be delicious and impressive, think about pork tenderloin.

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