Monday, September 26, 2005

Perfect Pork Tenderloin

I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but I sometimes feel that pork tenderloin is a highly underappreciated cut of meat. Everyone (And by "everyone," I mean all carnivores. Vegetarians are, of course, fine people, and the world would doubtless be a better, if less tasty, place if we all followed their example, but as I've probably said before, my forebears didn't scratch and claw their way to the top of the evolutionary heap so that I could eschew the consumption of meat: that would be ungrateful. And I am completely serious about that last sentence, insofar as "completely serious" means "making this crap up as I go along." I do, of course, want to be inclusive, so I will now explain to my notional vegetarian readers how to adapt any of my meat dishes. 1) For any piece of meat, substitute spaghetti squash. 2) To the end of each recipe add "and then throw it out.") knows and loves the beef tenderloin. And I love it, too, but, really, how often can you serve a beef tenderloin? It's humongous, so you can only make it for something like a big holiday dinner. And it's hella expensive: even at Costco, you can expect to spend the better part of a hundred dollars on one.

The pork tenderloin, though entirely different in taste, has the best qualities of beef tenderloin without the liabilities. A pork tenderloin is tender (duh), delicious, and elegant. It is also reasonably sized, easy to bring from package to table in forty-five minutes, and inexpensive. It is not unusual to see pork tenderloin on sale for less than three dollars a pound, and when you see it on sale, it's a good idea to buy a couple of packages and pop them in the freezer. Pork tenderloins are generally packaged two to a sleeve, and sometimes there are two sleeves to a package. I generally count on one tenderloin for every two to three people, so if I'm making dinner for four to six people, I'll use one sleeve. One tenderloin for two people is generous; one for three people is sufficient. If you're serving six people from two tenderloins, you will want to carve the meat into thinner slices to make it look more abundant, but it's still plenty.

DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Supermarkets will attempt to foist upon you tenderloins that have already been marinated in some sort of teriyaki (or something like that; I would find out exactly, but it's too painful to contemplate) marinade/glaze. Ewwwww. To add insult to injury, they will try to charge you more for these, claiming convenience. (I advise my readers of more tender sensibilities to cover their eyes for a moment.) Bullshit. A plain pork tenderloin is the soul of convenience. You don't need to pay more to get one that's been injected with soy sauce and high fructose corn syrup (or whatever they use).

We've had a sleeve (i.e., two tenderloins) sitting in the freezer for a while, so this weekend, V. put it in the refrigerator to thaw and, uncharacteristically, asked me to cook the meat part of the meal. It is fairly rare for him to ask me to cook something when we are en famille, but pork tenderloin is, apparently, not an Italian dish, so he wasn't sure how to cook it. Here's what I did.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary

Two pork tenderloins
1 clove garlic
3 sprigs rosemary
2 T. olive or canola oil
1/2 cup dry red wine

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the garlic clove into slivers. Rinse and dry the tenderloins.

Put the tenderloins on the cutting board. Stab them with a paring knife every inch or so. Put a sliver of garlic into each incision. Make sure that the garlic gets all the way down into the meat so that it doesn't burn later.

Put a skillet, preferably nonstick, over high heat. Salt and pepper the tenderloins. When the skillet is hot, pour in the oil. Put the first sprig of rosemary in the hot oil. Let cook for fifteen seconds or so, then turn it over, using tongs. Do this until it's cooked for a minute or so. It should be very green slightly wilted. Remove the rosemary and put it in the bottom of your roasting pan.

Put the tenderloins in the hot pan. Let them cook for three minutes, then flip them and cook on the other side for three minutes. Remove the tenderloins to the roasting pan, on top of the rosemary.

Pour the red wine into the pan and stir with your plastic pancake turner or wooden spoon. It should bubble furiously. Take the leaves off the second sprig of rosemary and add them to the wine. Stir for another thirty seconds or so, then pour the contents of the pan over the tenderloins.

Take your meat thermometer and put it into the thickest part of one of the tenderloins. Insert it through the end rather than through one of the browned sides. Set your temperature alarm for 160 degrees. Strip the leaves from the third sprig of rosemary and sprinkle them on top of the tenderloins. Put the pan in the oven, and cook until the alarm goes off. Remove and let sit for ten minutes. Then slice and serve.

If you are feeling ambitious, you could cook the tenderloins in your lovely Le Creuset au gratin pan that you got two (one large, one extra-large) of for $20 at the consignment store on a very good day, and when they come out of the oven, you could deglaze that pan with some more red wine and then beat in a bit of beurre manié to make a very nice sauce, but you don't really have to.

I actually set my thermometer's alarm to go off at 162 degrees because A. was over for dinner and wants her meat thoroughly cooked. I think that 160 degrees is better, and I doubt you will have more than a tinge of pink at that temperature. Also, keep in mind that the tenderloins taper off at one end, so that the thin end will be more cooked than the thick end. Still, even at 162, the tenderloins were tender and not at all dry, throughout.

If you think ahead a day or so, you can take a large ziplock bag and put in it a cup of red wine, three or four chopped cloves of garlic, the leaves from one sprig of rosemary, and two tablespoons of olive oil and marinate the tenderloins in that for a day or two. Then when you're ready to cook the tenderloins, pull them out of the bag and wipe them off thoroughly, then follow the rest of the recipe. You can incorporate the marinade into your sauce when they've finished roasting.


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