Spice-Crusted Pork Tenderloin
There's a simple technique to this dish, but it tends to baffle or intimidate some people. The basic approach is to brine the meat, then cook it fast and hot. The details are merely details, and can be fiddled with.
Sunk in the briny deep
Pork tenderloins generally come two to a package. Each tenderloin is about a pound in weight. For last night's dinner, we bought two cases of tenderloins: 24 individual tenderloins in all.
Remove the tenderloins from the vacuum-sealed package. Rinse them off. Trim off the silverskin and any other tissue that is basically indigestible. Use a small, very sharp knife, like a boning knife or a filleting knife. Silverskin is not fat; it adds no flavor, and it doesn't break down when you chew it. Get rid of as much as you can, without sacrificing the meat.
Prepare a simple brine. My recipe says to combine 3/4 cup kosher salt, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper. Dissolve in 1 cup boiling water. Pour mixture into 1 gallon cold water. Submerge the tenderloin(s). Store in refrigerator for 6-12 hours.
This amount of brine will easily do four tenderloins. Meanwhile, Deanne has complained frequently when I do this that the meat is too salty. If you find it so, reduce the amount of salt. Likewise, I like a little extra pepper in my brine. For the 24 tenderloins we made, I made up two brining tubs with a dozen tenderloins apiece, each containing about 3 gallons of brine. Each brining tub's brine contained 1.5 cups salt, 1.5 cups sugar, and about 3/4 tsp pepper. I was very pleased with the result.
The purpose of the brine is not merely to season the meat, though it does that. It also saturates the tissues so that the meat will not dry out, even when subjected to very high heat. Remember, there is almost no fat on a tenderloin to render out and keep the meat moist. Cooking tenderloin by this technique without brining first will reduce the very best meat on the animal to a leather cinder.
Ay, there's the rub
When you are ready to actually cook the meat, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then prepare a dry rub. My rub consists of two parts: the whole spices and the powdered spices. For one tenderloin, start with
1 Tbsp mustard seed,Put these in a dry skillet and toast lightly for best effect. This brings out all the essential oils in the little kernels. That said, if you're under the gun, as we were last night, just send everything through the spice blender and get on with it. Add these spices to
1 Tbsp cracked coriander seed,
1/2 Tbsp cumin seed,
1 Tbsp cracked juniper berries.
1 Tbsp ground coriander,Whisk everything together in a bowl. If you have more than one tenderloin, increase spices proportionately. If there are other spices you favor, be creative.
1 Tbsp garlic powder,
1 Tbsp ground mustard,
1 Tbsp cornstarch.
Drain tenderloin(s). Pat dry with paper towel. Apply dry rub all over.
Nuke the pig
Heat 1-2 Tbsp oil (I prefer olive oil) in a skillet (I prefer cast iron). Brown tenderloin on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Place skillet in 450 degree oven (or transfer meat to oven-going vessel -- be warned, this is messy, and you lose a lot of crust). Roast for 20 minutes.
Don't be intimidated if you don't have the right vessels. We had limited stove top acreage to deal with, and nowhere near enough skillets. Also, all six of our ovens have different size hot boxes, and every one cooks at a different speed. So we browned the tenderloins in two batches, using foil hotel pans and cookie sheets (depending on our oven sizes) which we placed directly over the gas flames. Then we shoved them into the ovens. Whatever you use, do not cover your roasting meat.
Also, be aware that 20 minutes is optimistic. Lots of factors go into this. I've found that 25-30 minutes is often needed, depending upon the oven (and how much meat is in there). It also depends on how done you want your meat. Be aware that your meat can sometimes be a little pink. With pork as it is produced today, that is not dangerous, but some people are put off by it. Preferred technique for checking doneness is a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. A small incision will also work, but you risk losing moisture. The National Pork Board recommends removing pork from the heat when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees. "Medium" doneness is considered 160 degrees, but carryover cooking will allow your meat to coast another ten degrees up while resting.
Resting your meat is essential! Let your tenderloin(s) stand at least 15 minutes before carving. If you don't, all the moisture will gush out and you will have dry meat. Cut on the bias into medallions.