I often think that cooking pork tenderloin is a lost art. Everyone has a great steak recipe, or a roast chicken or beef roast recipe “to die for”. But who ever brags about their pork tenderloin recipes?
I do, that’s who.
I love cooking pork tenderloin, and when you finish reading this web page I hope you will be warming up to it too. It really is a great cut of meat, being inexpensive, highly versatile and succulent.
Reasons to Love Pork Tenderloin
1. At first look, pork tenderloin – the long, slender, cylindrical cut that comes from the full loin – may appear expensive. But with no bone and very little fat, there’s no waste. Most tenderloins run ¾ to 1 ¼ pounds; one will serve three to four diners.
2. Pork tenderloin is one of the quickest-cooking cuts of meat. You can grill a tenderloin over direct heat in less than 10 minutes, plus 5 minutes resting time.
3. Cooking pork tenderloin lends itself to varied methods and presentations. Roasted or grilled whole, it can be brought to the table for carving on an oblong or oval platter or sliced into thick medallions and fanned on the plate. You can cut it before cooking and skewer it for kebabs or even use it in a stir-fry.
4. It works equally well as a weeknight entrée or an elegant dinner-party centerpiece. Stuffed pork tenderloin is particularly impressive.
For an intimate dinner, butterfly a tenderloin by slicing it lengthwise almost all the way through and opening it out like a book. Paint the open surfaces with a pesto-style sauce or layer in a fruit-nut stuffing or a traditional bread stuffing. (See Mushroom & Spinach Stuffed Pork Tenderloin recipe below).
For a larger party, try a double stuffed tenderloin: Butterfly two tenderloins; sandwich them together, cut sides together with stuffing between them; tie them with kitchen twine and roast. Either way, when the roast is sliced into medallions, the line of stuffing in the center offers dramatic visual appeal.
5. Pork tenderloin can be served hot or room temperature, making it perfect for potluck, picnic or buffet. You can pre-slice it and offer a dipping sauce; add sandwich makings, if you like.
Tips for Cooking Pork Tenderloin
1. Take its temperature: The tenderloin’s small size and leanness make it susceptible to overcooking, so an instant read thermometer is a must when cooking pork tenderloin. The National Pork Board suggests cooking to a final internal temperature of 160F degrees, which can be achieved by cooking to 155F degrees and removing the tenderloin from the oven to rest 10 minutes (the temperature will rise several degrees).
Gourmet chef’s prefer removing the pork at 145 or 150F degrees (it is perfectly safe at this temperature) and letting it rest 5 minutes. If you’re put off by pink pork, use the higher figure, but 150 degrees will result in juicier pork. If you’ll be reheating the meat, 145 is preferable.
2. Flavor it: This mild-flavored cut lends itself to dry rubs, marinades and brining. Brining, which enhances juiciness, is simpler than you think. Just mix a quart of cold water, ½ cup sugar and ¼ cup table salt in a large resealable plastic bag (include spices, aromatics and citrus juice or zest for more flavor). Even 30 minutes will make a difference, but you can brine it up to 8 hours in the fridge.
Marinades can be as simple as olive oil and garlic, but if you use an acid such as citrus juice, don’t marinate more than 2 hours, or the meat will be mushy.
Dry rubs – ground herbs and spices, chiles, paprikas – can be applied several hours ahead of time, but even a last-minute rub will punch up your pork.
3. Glaze it: Barbecue sauces; fruit preserves, jellies and jams; reduced fruit purees and juices; and syrups are all potential ingredients for a glaze. Apply the glaze after you’ve seared the meat and before the final cooking.
4. Grill it: Its small size, tenderness and lack of fat make the pork tenderloin ideal for grilling. Sear the tenderloin on the hottest part of the grill for about 1 ½ minutes on each side and then cooking over either direct heat, 2 to 3 minutes more per side, or indirect heat, for 10 to 15 minutes more without turning.
5. Pan-roast it: This is my favorite method of cooking pork tenderloin. Take the tenderloin out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Film an ovenproof skillet with oil and sear the tenderloin over medium-high heat to brown all sides, about 5 minutes in all. If you’re using a glaze, apply it now.
Place skillet in the oven and roast 15 to 20 minutes, until internal temperature is 145F degrees. Remove from the oven, tent the pork with foil and let it rest about 5 minutes before serving. If you don’t use a glaze, make a quick pan sauce by deglazing the skillet with chicken broth, wine, fruit juice or another flavorful liquid.
Leftover Pork Tenderloin
1. Slice it, top it with barbecue sauce or horseradish mustard and stuff it in a roll for sandwiches.
2. Slice it thinly and fan it over crisp greens for a sesame-and soy-dressed Asian salad.
3. Cube it, heat it briefly in a skillet with salsa and spoon it over rice.
4. Cube it, heat it briefly in a skillet with pasta sauce and toss it with pasta.
5. Cube it, toss it with sliced onions and bell peppers in a dry nonstick or cast-iron skillet over high heat, and serve it with tortillas and salsa verde or chipotle sauce, taco or fajita-style.
Flavor Profiles for Cooking Pork Tenderloin
1. Latin: Use ground ancho or other chiles, cumin and garlic powder in dry rubs; adobo-style citrus-garlic marinades; mole or verde sauces. Apple Chipotle Pork Tenderloin and Chili Espresso Pork Tenderloin Recipes
2. Italian: Garlic and rosemary are classic with roast pork.
3. Caribbean: Mix together equal parts brown sugar and rum, then add Dijon mustard.
4. Asian: There’s almost no Asian sauce that doesn’t go with pork. Hoisin makes a quick glaze; citrus-soy with garlic and fresh ginger works as a marinade, glaze or dipping sauce. Or go Indian and coat your tenderloin with a tandoori-style paste, or glaze it with a chutney thinned with lime juice. Honey Gingered Pork Tenderloin and Chinese Pork Tenderloin Recipes
5. Fruity: Pork pairs well with almost any fruit (add some tartness for balance if the fruit is quite sweet). Cherries, blackberries, peaches, pineapples and apples all are good bets, either as glaze ingredients or roasted in the pan with the tenderloin. Pork Satays with Zesty Peach Chutney Recipe
6. Nutty: Nuts are a wonderful addition to any stuffing for cooking pork tenderloin, or paint the tenderloin with Dijon mustard and coat it with a crust of chopped pecans or other nuts before roasting
Mushroom and Spinach Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Set a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450 F. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy, ovenproof 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until browned and tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach, sprinkle with salt, and cook, tossing well with tongs, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the spinach mixture to a colander and set the skillet aside.
Prior to cooking pork tenderloin, trim the pork of any silverskin or excess fat. Butterfly the tenderloin by making a horizontal slice lengthwise through the tenderloin almost all the way to the other side. Open the meat flat, like a book. Cover with plastic wrap, and using a meat mallet, a small, heavy skillet, or the heel of your hand, lightly pound the pork so that it’s ¼ inch thick. Rub the pork all over with 1 tablespoon of the oil, half of the thyme, and about ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
Squeeze any excess liquid from the spinach and mushrooms. Spread over the pork, leaving bare a 2-inch border along one long edge. Sprinkle on the Parmigiano. Starting with the long side that’s covered with filling, roll the stuffed tenderloin toward the bare-border side so that it forms a cylinder, and secure it with four or five toothpicks or kitchen twine.
Wipe the skillet clean if necessary. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Sear the pork on all three non-seam sides until well browned, about 6 minutes total. Flip onto the seam side, then transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast registers 140 F, 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer the meat to a clean cutting board, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, return the skillet to the stove over medium-high heat (be careful; the skillet’s handle will be hot). Add the shallots, season with ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until the shallots soften and brown, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, sherry vinegar, and the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons thyme, and simmer briskly until the mixture reduces by a bit more than half, about 4 minutes. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Slice the pork into ½-inch thick slices and serve with the sauce.
There you have it – all the reasons you should consider cooking pork tenderloin way more often than you probably planned to before reading this web page. I sincerely hope I’ve convinced you to join me in exploring all the virtues of this wonderful cut of meat!