Monday, January 30, 2012


Hey, pork! Even though I came of age in the late 1980s, during the heady days of the famous “The Other White Meat” campaign (“the fifth most memorable promotional tagline in the history of contemporary advertising”*), it never really occurs to me to eat whole cuts of pork. I’m not tempted to order it in restaurants; I’ve only prepared it once at home—and that was really just because I had some wild rice to use up. I use ground pork on occasion, and I love sausage and bacon and prosciutto and pulled pork and carnitas and all that jazz, so I have no problem with the flavor; I just don’t gravitate toward big pieces of meat (not even steaks) and at this point, eight years into a food blog, I’m rather embarrassed that I don’t know how to buy or cook pork. I’m not even sure what made me dogear the page of Cooking Light that featured this recipe, except that it looked easy and tasty and involved the now-apparently-omnipresent-in-my-kitchen combo of Dijon and panko breading. Plus, it looked like something A would like, and I figured he deserved a break from all that quinoa.

I did what I always do when I see something promising-looking in Cooking Light, which was to flag the page in the actual magazine, wait a couple of weeks, and then go to the online version of the recipe to see what the ratings look like and whether there are any frequently-suggested tips, tricks, additions, or other edits. (There are a lot of loopy commenters out there, but in my experience, when nearly everyone says something like “Double the sauce” or “Halve the salt,” they’re usually on to something.) This one had a five-star rating with no real suggestions for improvement, which surprised me a bit because it looked so incredibly simple as to risk blandness. I figured it was time to take the plunge, so I went out and bought myself a pork tenderloin. And wow, those things are magical! Sure, they’re rather comically tubular, but they’re affordable ($4.99/pound at Trader Joe’s) and incredibly easy to deal with. The meat was moist and tender, and flavorful enough that I think I’d like it even if it weren’t enrobed in delicious mustard.

I’m not sure if I have a faulty meat thermometer (very likely) or I’m still getting used to my new oven or pork tenderloins vary or what, but I struggled just a bit making this even though the instructions are laughably straightforward. The first time, my pork simply refused to reach the correct temperature. Being so inexperienced as a pork cooker, I was paranoid about undercooking and ended up baking it more than twice as long as the recipe dictated. I’d gotten started later than I’d planned and the new side dish I was making also took much longer than expected, so by the time my pork finally registered 145 degrees, at about 9:30 on a Sunday night, I was thoroughly Over It. So convinced was I that the entire meal was going to be a disaster that I didn’t even take photos. Then, of course, everything was delicious, so I had to turn around and make it again so I could get photos for this site. The second time, I approached it with a Zen “this will take however long it takes” attitude, and I managed to overcook the pork—it was still just as tasty as ever, just a bit on the dry side. I’m contemplating sticking to 8 minutes next time, no matter what the thermometer says. But these are small matters; the important thing is that this recipe manages to get a lot of flavor out of just a few ingredients and a simple cooking technique. Also, I am now officially interested in pork, so pigs, hide your tenderloins! I’m off to troll the food sites for recipes.

*Hilariously to me, the National Pork Board now refers to “The Other White Meat” as its “heritage brand,” having switched to the vague and tepid motto “Be Inspired.”

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 8 medallions
½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Rub mustard evenly over pork medallions. Combine panko, thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

3. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.

4. When skillet is hot, dredge pork medallions one by one in panko mixture and add them to the skillet. Sauté 2 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Turn pork over, then place skillet in oven and bake for 8 minutes or until pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Let stand 3 minutes before serving.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK, although breadcrumbs will not remain crisp.

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