"Thanks to genetic manipulation, today’s pork has about 30 percent less fat than it did just a few decades ago, and less fat means blander, drier meat." - Cook's Illustrated, March 1, 2009.
"...a 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin contains only 2.98 grams of fat, whereas a 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast contains 3.03 grams of fat..." - National Pork Board 2006, Des Moines, Iowa, USA.
For more than 20 years, Americans have heard pork described as "the other white meat" on advertisements produced by the National Pork Board. My first reaction to the Board's advertising campaign was "ah, so now lean pork tastes like chicken!" But pork really is a good selection for a low-fat meat entrée; the meat is mild and amenable to a variety of seasonings, and it cooks quickly on the grill or in the oven. You can slice pork tenderloins into medallions or strips, so it's good choice for a fast sauté or stir-fry on a weeknight. But here's the rub: it's difficult to cook low-fat meats quickly without dry, tough results. Pork tenderloin is no exception.
If you've never cooked a pork tenderloin, I suggest an hour's soak in a simple brine before cooking. Brining hydrates the meat and you are less likely to end up with a dry, gray ugly bit of pork. Remove all silvery skin and fat from two pork tenderloins. Mix 3 tablespoons kosher salt, 3/4 cup (169 g)white sugar, 2 cups (500 ml) hot water and 2 cups (500 ml) cold water. Immerse the pork tenderloins into the brine, cover and soak for about one hour in the fridge. Rinse and dry the meat. You can, of course, skip the brining process.
The basic rules for cooking whole pork tenderloins are fast and easy: rub the meat with seasonings, cook it quickly in the oven or on the grill, and remove the meat when an instant-read thermometer reads 145 degrees F (63 degrees C), then let the meat rest before about five minutes before slicing.
This is my favorite recipe for pork tenderloin - it's best cooked on a grill (by my sister-in-law), but adapts well to a quick roast in a conventional oven. The herb-and-oil rub is also well-suited to...yes, chicken. I serve this with rice pilaf and a well-seasoned vegetable (try zucchini steamed with onions, drained, with a bit of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper). It's also good with a spicy, cranberry-based sauce, mashed potatoes and buttered green beans.
Perfect Pork Tenderloin
Serves 6-8 with a starch and vegetable.
2 pork tenderloins, approximately one pound (453 grams) each
1 cup fruity, extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon salt (omit if you have brined the pork)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Trim visible fat and silvery skin from the pork tenderloins, and brine if you have the time - or inclination - for one hour. Rinse and dry the meat.
Mix the olive oil and seasonings in a small bowl, then rub about three-quarters of the mixture on each of the two tenderloins. If time allows, marinate in the oil mixture for 30-40 minutes.
Preheat your grill to medium, or oven to 350ºF (180ºC/ gas mark 4). Pop the tenderloins on the grill or into roasting pan. Cook for 20-30 minutes, basting 2-3 times with the reserved, seasoned oil. Why 20-30 minutes? Your grill or oven isn't perfect, and the size of your tenderloin won't be standard. Check at the 20 minute mark with your instant read thermometer, removing the meat from the oven or grill at the 140ºF (68ºC) reading. The meat will be a bit pink, but don't worry. Let the meat rest on the kitchen counter for about 10 minutes while you finish up your sides (tent with a large piece of aluminum foil to retain heat).