Perfect Pork Tenderloin – A Method

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

Curried Yogurt Dip with Basil, Serrano, and Lime

Nom nom nom nom nom nom.

For once in my life, I’m supposed to consume more calories: I’m pregnant! This insatiable incubator needs fuel! I have to eat every two hours or my body starts to freak out.  I feel like T-Rex in the kitchen, stalking my prey. (Minus the vestigial arms.)

As I clean a fistful worth of salt-n-vinegar chip residue from my keyboard, I realize that even though I’d like to use pregnancy as an excuse to get fat on ice cream, I have to balance my indulgences with good nutrition.  I must pack my newly re-purposed body with mostly fruit and veg.

Enter this cool curried yogurt sauce — it makes an outstanding veggie dip.

The warmth of toasted curry powder, the brightness of fresh basil, the heat of a serrano chile, and the citrus kick of lime zest are all stirred into your favorite plain yogurt.  The flavors might seem a little odd (Indian curry and basil?), but the combination works.  This dip’s got enough going on to keep yet another bag of baby carrots interesting.

Try it with carrots, sliced red bell peppers, cauliflower florets, broccoli florets, or sugar snaps.

If you’re not into spicy food, substitute a milder jalapeno for the serrano, seed it, and use just a little. You’ll need the fresh flavor from the chile but you’ll be omitting much of the heat.  You can also use a mild curry powder.  (I use a hot variety.)

This dip also makes a great sauce for fish.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it would be awesome with grilled chicken kebabs piled atop basmati rice.  If you find another good use for it, leave a comment and let me know!

Curried Yogurt Dip with Basil, Serrano, and Lime
Thick Greek yogurt warmed with curry and chilies and brightened with fresh basil and lime zest. Serve cold as a veggie dip or as a sauce for seared fish or grilled chicken.

Serves 2

Adapted from Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook

1 cup thick Greek-style yogurt, see *note
1 tsp. yellow curry powder
1 Tbs. fresh basil, minced
1 tsp. lime zest
1 tsp. serrano pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 tsp. sugar
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

Toast curry: In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the curry powder until fragrant, about 1 minute, swirling pan occasionally to prevent burning.

Seed the serrano: Wear gloves when handling chilies. Remove stem end. Cut serrano lengthwise into fourths.  Use a paring knife to scrape out all seeds and attached membranes.  Mince.

Mix yogurt, toasted curry powder, basil, lime zest, serrano, sugar, salt, and pepper.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes to let flavors meld, then adjust seasonings if needed. (Sauce will get slightly spicier as it sits.)

Serve cold.

Keeps up to one week in the refrigerator.

*Note: If you cannot easily find Greek yogurt, you can thicken American yogurt for a similar result.  Drain yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth, set over a large bowl.  Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, until most of the liquid has drained away. Start with twice the volume of yogurt you’ll need once it’s thickened.


Citrus and Daikon Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Some of you are still covered in snow.  Here in Texas we are simultaneously basking in and complaining about 80 degree temps. For us, it’s the perfect time to use winter’s seasonal citrus in gorgeous, light salads. It’s only “winter” in that the Rio Grande Valley grapefruits are still piled high and cheap in the grocery store.

This bright citrus and daikon salad with a tart champagne vinaigrette is another creation from Catherine Walther’s Raising the Salad Bar. Like the previous Apple and Pomegranate Salad, which involved seeding a pomegranate, this recipe is a great excuse to learn a new kitchen skill may teach you something — how to suprême citrus fruits.

If you’ve ever had canned mandarin oranges, you know what a supreme of citrus looks like — succulent sections of fruit, free of all bitter pith and membrane, with no toughness to chew through, the juicy fruit presented without distraction. With a sharp knife, it takes only a couple of minutes to supreme any citrus, giving you nice wedges to place atop fish, salads, or alongside eggs at your next brunch.

To supreme any citrus fruit:

1. Remove the round top (stem end) and bottom of the fruit by making horizontal slices.
2. Place the fruit on a newly flat side.
3. Run your knife down the sides to remove the rind and outer white pith.
4. Holding the skinless fruit in one hand, working one section at a time, cut closely along the membranes that radiate out from the center.  As you are about to cut a section free, you may need to give your knife a slight twist at the center of the fruit to loosen the section.
5. Squeeze the cut peel and membranes over a small bowl to collect any juices.

You’ll be left with stunningly pretty fruit that bursts in your mouth.

Are you new to daikon? These radishes are long, white, and mild, with only a slight kick of earthy bite. They are normally found in the Asian produce section; look for radishes that are firm and resist bending. If yours come with their leafy green tops, save them for sautéing or roasting like kale until crisp. If you can’t find daikon, substitute jicama.

This salad is sweet, earthy, crisp, and juicy. Serve it on a plate instead of a bowl to show off your new skills — the blushing pink grapefruit supremes will look so lovely next to their vividly orange cousins.

Citrus and Daikon Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
Rosy pink grapefruit and bright orange supremes tossed with a crisp julienne of daikon radish and a bright, tart, champagne vinaigrette.

From Catherine Walther’s Raising the Salad Bar

Serves 4 to 6

2 grapefruits
3 navel oranges
1 section (about 3 inches long) daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
6 to 8 cups lettuce, washed and dried (I used butter lettuce, frisée, and radicchio.)

for the vinaigrette:
1/3 cup leftover juice from oranges and grapefruit
2 Tbs. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. shallot, minced
5 Tbs. olive oil
salt, to taste

Supreme the citrus as described above. Squeeze the peels and membranes over a small bowl to collect excess juice.

For the vinaigrette, mix the reserved juice, vinegar, and shallot in a small bowl.  Whisk in the oil and season with salt.

Toss the daikon and lettuce with just enough dressing to coat. Transfer to serving plates and top with citrus sections.

Shatteringly Crisp Kale with Sea Salt and Red Chile

Even if you only try this recipe for the novelty of shatteringly crisp kale that falls apart into a thousand pieces in your mouth, it’ll be worth it. This kale is such a far cry from the traditional soul-food pots of kale or other greens simmered until tender (a.k.a mushy). These crunchy, salty leaves feel more like very thin potato chips in the mouth. They are a fun healthy snack (and a way to get some leafy greens into your diet) but would also be a nice accompaniment to any especially soft dish, like a long-simmered stew of meat or beans.

I’ve had crispy fried kale, a single leaf presented as a crunchy garnish atop silky fish, but I never made it in my own kitchen. I hate deep-frying at home; the oil always winds up spattering just enough to give the floor a sticky coat and my ridiculously designed ventilation system (microwave with vents over the stove) means that the interior of my microwave winds up dripping with oil droplets. Besides, why negate the fact that kale is so freaking good for you by dousing it in oil?

This roasting method calls for an entire bunch of kale and only a tablespoon of olive oil. As for the salt, If you’ve got flaky sea salt, use it. If you have kosher salt, that will work well too. If you only have regular table salt, well, fix that! Regular table salt, with its super-fine crystals and slightly off taste, just won’t do here. (Do a salt taste-test and you’ll see what I mean.)

I haven’t tried any other greens yet but I’d be thrilled if any of you can report back on the success of chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, or any other of the “tough” greens that can likely stand up to this treatment. When my local farm stand returns from winter hiatus with bunches of “spicy Asian greens”, whose varied and esoteric names always escape me, this is going to be my first recipe to try.

I chose to heat my kale with a sprinkling of red chile flakes, but the possibilities are numerous–you might try sesame seeds, a post-cooking shaving of parmesan, or perhaps even Indian spices like cracked mustard seed, curry powder, or garam masala. Or just stick with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let me know if you try any seasonings that work well!

Crispy Kale with Sea Salt and Red Chile
Shatteringly crisp slow-roasted kale warmed with a touch of chile heat. The texture alone makes this recipe worth trying. Adapted from Jacques Pepin’s TV Show “More Fast Food My Way”.

Serves 3-4 as a snack or side dish.

1 bunch kale
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt, to taste (or substitute kosher salt)
dried red chile flakes

Heat oven to 250F.

Pull kale leaves from the tough main stems. Discard stems. Wash leaves and spin dry. Turn leaves out onto a kitchen towel and blot dry–any moisture will keep kale from getting crispy.

Toss leaves with olive oil, salt, and chile flakes. The kale will shrink when it cooks; go a little easy on the salt.

Spread in an even layer on a baking rack set over a baking sheet. (See picture.)

Bake for 20 minutes or until crispy. Some pieces on the edges may get crispy before those in the middle–just pull them off the sheets and put the pan back in the oven for a few minutes to finish.

Serve immediately. Stored kale will lose its crispy texture.