There are some skills in the kitchen that, once mastered, pay off again and again. Basic techniques that can transform all of your cooking from good to great.
Proper salting is an example. Or blanching vegetables to keep them crisp and vibrant. And, of course, cooking meat so that it is tender and flavorful before any sauce ever touches it. I’ve already covered how to grill chicken, now it’s time for some juicy piggy!
Pork tenderloin is a great meat to cook at home. It’s very lean with a fat content only slightly higher than chicken breasts, you can successfully roast a small loin that will serve as few as 2 people, and it cooks quickly due to the small size. It’s also one of the most tender cuts of pork, which is especially important now that commercial pork has lost its former succulence; pigs are now bred to be very lean in order to be “the other white meat.”
Pork tenderloin is also terrifically easy to master. All you need is a standard meat thermometer. With one of these in your kitchen toolkit, you can cook perfect piggy every time. Aim for a final temperature (after resting) of 145F, and you’ll have luscious (yet safe to eat) pork on your plate. You can also use an instant-read thermometer, but you can’t leave that in the oven.
The easiest way to reach the optimal final temperature and also develop a flavorful brown crust is to sear first, then bake to finish.
How to cook perfect, moist pork tenderloin:
1. Buy pork tenderloin, not pork loin. I find that people are often confused about this. Learn the difference: pork tenderloins are relatively thin strips of meat, with a maximum 2-inch diameter and a dark color. Pork loin is much larger, pale, and often sold as “loin roast” or cut into “butterfly loin chops”. Pork loin is not nearly as tender and is best when brined before cooking.
2. Remove the silver skin. It’s that wide piece of silvery membrane attached to the thick end and it is chewy and tough. Great video demonstration here.
3. Season well. Rub pork with a little oil and plenty of kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper, and any dried herbs or seasonings. Don’t be timid with salt or spices — the interior will not be in direct contact with the seasonings and you need to go heavier than you might think.
4. Sear on all sides in a preheated skillet set over high heat until golden brown. Do not sear for too long or you risk overcooking the meat and making it tough. One minute per side is plenty. Sear only one loin at a time to prevent overcrowding your pan, which will create steam and reduce browning. Don’t shake the pan or shift the meat while it’s browning. Move the meat only when you’re ready to turn it over.
5. Finish in the oven and check internal temperature. Move the meat to a baking sheet or dish and roast in a preheated 375F oven until 140F internal temperature. This usually takes around 15 minutes, but measure the temp with a meat thermometer rather than relying on a time measurement, since your searing time and tenderloin size may vary. Insert the thermometer lengthwise into the thickest end of the tenderloin, as shown.
6. Let rest. Remove loin(s) from the hot pan to a platter, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
When sliced, the pork should be blushing pink in the center, not gray. Don’t worry if you’ve been warned not to eat undercooked pork — pork is safe at 145F and your tenderloin will rise to that temp while it rests. The tenderloin naturally has a slight pink color when properly cooked.
Get creative when seasoning your pork! Fresh herbs are an obvious choice, with thyme, sage, and rosemary being solid choices that also work well with many sauces. Use generous amounts of chopped herbs on the surface of the meat to ensure that the interior is seasoned well enough.
Dried spice mixes are also great; try a mix of dried coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika to take the tenderloin in an entirely different direction. You can also mix dried spices and fresh herbs — one of my favorite combinations is fresh sage, fresh rosemary, and Chinese five-spice.
Up next: A quick fruit sauce for pork tenderloin. Subscribe to receive the recipe for a luscious (and easy) Balsamic Fig Compote when it’s posted.
If you’ve got any favorite spice or herb rubs for pork tenderloin, please comment and share!