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November 15, 2006

Make Pork Tenderloin a Meal, Not Charcoal


The pork tenderloin, for instance, is an intimidating piece of meat. It is long and tube-like and  also delicate. The average person, not emboldened by a sense of adventure, might look at one and wonder if it might not defy his skills, or whether it would require too much work.


Dastardly illusion!


The pork tenderloin is simple, almost too simple. For all its simplicity, however, it is sometimes cruel. Its leanness makes it especially uncompromising when it comes to heat. Apply it for too long, and it will sit on your plate and pout, fussing on and on about how you let it dry out.


Yet, like all good meats, it does well when stuffed with other things. It has its own subtle flavor, which mixes well with other ingredients. For purposes of argument, let us consider a basic stuffing of mushrooms, onions and spinach.


We start, as we often do, with garlic. Pork tenderloin and garlic get on especially well together. They compliment and complement each other, one saying to the other, “You smell especially zestful today, sir,” with the other replying, “As do you, my good man.”


In a small bit of oil, we heat the garlic and some chopped onions. When heating, add finely chopped button mushrooms – perhaps three. You must make sure that they are chopped into fine pieces. It would be an exaggeration to suggest turning them into a dust, but not by a great margin. Your space is limited. Pack as much into that cavity as possible.


Here, it’s advised to turn on the oven, and to provide the second warning about pork tenderloin. You will want to do this job as quickly as possible, to avoid drying out the meat. That means hitting it with a massive wave of heat for a comparatively short period of time. Preheat your oven here to … 500 degrees.


While this softly heats, remove as much of the clear membrane as possible from the tenderloin. You might ask what it is and what it is doing there. The answer is perhaps not something worth pondering. It is deliciousness we’re pursuing here, not a lesson in hog physiology. What is important is that there is a clear membrane where you do not want one to be. Use knife and hand to remove most of it, and perhaps consider trimming any excess fat.


When the membrane is removed, create a slit lengthwise, making sure to go deep enough to create a cavity, but not so deep that you cut right through.


Here, a thought strikes you. The mushrooms! Remove them from heat. You will want them softened enough to have absorbed some of the garlic flavor, but not so soft that they become soggy in the oven.


Dump mushrooms in a bowl. Add a small handful of washed and finely cut (scissors work best) 

baby spinach leaves.  Also add a little shredded Swiss cheese.


Here, perhaps the thought strikes you that this might be a job for Feta. The presence of spinach in any cooked recipe always prompts thoughts of Feta cheese, for they are as complementary as mosquitoes and malaria. Here, however, let us force Mr. Spinach out into the cruel, hard world on his own to mix and mingle with others.  Feta perhaps is too bound and determined to clump together.


Once fully mixed, stuff into the tenderloin’s cavity, and place the pan into the oven.


Here is your third warning about the danger of pork tenderloin. It might go from dangerously undercooked to charcoal in the matter of seconds. Do not leave the kitchen, do not spend time cooking a side dish, do not even blink. The situation here is that precarious; the fate of your dinner hangs by a slowly unraveling thread.


Check on it regularly. When done, the center will still be slightly pink. When is that, you wonder? Here, your imagination will serve you well. Use it! Exercise it!


When it reaches that point, do not hesitate. Act with resolve. Pull the dish from the oven. Slice the tenderloin against the grain, pile on top of cooked wild rice, and thank the stars that you rescued the princess from the fire breathing dragon.


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