Moroccan Spiced Tenderloin with Honeyed Shiraz
Folks, I have come to terms with the vicious dichotomy that I am a cooking purist who really likes short cuts and taking the easy way out. At times I wonder if I’m maybe just a bit of a culinary “cheater”, but I just don’t think that a special dinner with high quality food needs to take 3 days and 17 steps before it goes from conception to fruition. For example, this post is a dinner which I’ve tagged “lazybones” because it’s one of those really simple, shortcut meals that come together with a minimal effort and takes only about 40 minutes to get from pan to table. This is the kind of food which is almost embarrassingly easy to make, and requires as little effort as possible, but the praise that you’ll get? Whoooeeee, you’ll feel like Thomas Keller on crack as people keep pelting laurels in your general direction. This is also the kind of dinner where you get to practice acting out that slightly embarrassed modesty, with down-turned fluttering eyelashes and a carefully crafted shoulder shrug, as you say, “Oh, really, it was nothing….” Your inflection, of course, encourages people to continue the belief that you’ve spent hours slaving over a hot stove just for them, but have far too much grace and class to say so. The reality of the situation is: truly, it was nothing.
I wanted to make a special dinner for Mike on Friday, because we’ve both been working quirky hours and haven’t spent much time together lately. Oh yes, and during the time that we have had I’ve been a bit of a shrew. Possibly due to sleep deprivation, the changing seasons, or any one of the multitude defenses I pull out of my sleeve to excuse my skeevy crankiness from time to time, but the truth is that I’ve just been acting like a big ol’ jerk, picking fights and poking the bear on a daily basis. I’ve said it before, but living with me is not easy and Mike truly has the patience of a saint….or, possibly, the ability to tune me out like Charlie Brown’s teacher until my incessant nagging turns into white noise and guttural honks. Either way, it’s impressive.
After a week of acting like a harpy with a bone to pick, I thought that I owed my honey an apology dinner. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s those times when, “I made spaghetti and meatballs” actually translates into, “I’m sorry for rear-ending your car and pretending that it got rammed by the shopping cart of a homeless man.” Oh, or, “I made roast pork – your favorite!” which is a nice substitute for, “you didn’t REALLY like that cat, did you?” There are times when you want to start by talking about feelings and all that crap, and then there are times when you just want to put a plate on the table that says, “I love you, I really do, and although I’ve been frustrating I promise that you’ll like me much more after dinner.”
PS – he still wants to marry me, which points to the effectiveness of this strategy. Makes sense though, because the smoky-sweet tenderloin in that dark, syrupy wine reduction really was that good. Heck, I’d marry me too, tantrums or not.
The spice blend that I used as a rub on this tenderloin is a variation of the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout. Mind you, all ras el hanout, which translates to “top in the shop” is an iteration based on a few core ingredients that was considered to be the best blend that a shopkeeper or spice merchant could give you. Because it’s a spice blend, the measurements and ingredients used can vary enormously from home to home. Think of this blend in the same way that you would garam masala or curry powder – everyone makes it just a little bit different, but the main flavors tend to stay more or less consistent. Ras el hanout can be made with over 30 ingredients, including the more obscure like crushed rosebuds, grains of paradise or even the feverish Spanish fly. At the core though, you will usually find crushed peppers (paprika, cayenne), cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and allspice or clove. The whole spices/roots/seasonings are normally dried or toasted and then they all get ground together into an intoxicating and totally addictive blend.
Moroccan Spiced Tenderloin with Honeyed Shiraz
- 1 veal tenderloin (about 1 kg/2 lb) *
- 1.5 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp anise seed
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1.5 cups shiraz **
* I adore the tender, succulent meat of a veal tenderloin, however beef tenderloin or a rack of lamb would be equally delicious. If you opt for a different meat you will want to adjust cooking times accordingly. The main reason that I chose veal is not for the sweet and delicate flavor, but rather because it was (surprisingly) the most affordable option. And hey, special dinners are great and everything, but so is being able to afford gas the next day.
** Alright, so you know my feelings on using expensive wines to cook with. Even though the wine will be used to make a reduction and the base flavor will really come through, you don’t need to splurge. You also don’t need to use a shiraz if, for example, you happen to have a nice gutsy cab-sauv open on the counter. Just choose a rich, flavorful red wine that you want to enjoy with the meal.
In a small bowl combine all the spices with the salt and pepper. If you found that you weren’t particularly in the mood to measure out 12 little scoops, that’s okay too. You can always use 2 tablespoons of a purchased ras el hanout blend. The Spice Trader carries an absolutely delectable blend if you wanted to splurge and spend $10.95 on 45 grams. You can guess my feelings on that one, but if I had a limitless disposable income I’d be one of their best customers. If you’re using a purchased ras el hanout blend, simply stir in the salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the spice blend all over the tenderloin and really pat it in well. Before you season meat and seafood it is a common practice to pat it down and dry it off first, but that’s not a good idea when it comes to dry rubs. The natural moisture on your meat will help the spice blend to adhere, which means that you can really slather it on nice and thickly to coat the meat.
If you have time, let the meat rest in it’s spicy cloak for about 30 minutes at room temperature so that the flavors can start to penetrate.
Preheat your oven to 300ºF.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan over high heat. You want the pan hot enough to sear your meat, so a good test is either when the oil just starts to smoke or when you can only hover your hand 1-2 inches above the pan for a count of “3 steamboats”. Carefully lay the tenderloin into the pan (try to avoid painful splatters) and sear it quickly on all sides. As soon as the outside is nicely browned, which will take 3-4 minutes in total, tuck the tenderloin into a shallow roasting pan (or on a lipped baking sheet, which is my low-tech operations style) and tuck it into the center of your oven. The tenderloin will need to cook for 25-40 minutes, depending on the desired doneness that you want to achieve. I wanted our tenderloin to be somewhere after medium rare but before medium well, because although we like our steak quite rare Mike isn’t as familiar with veal and I wanted to ease him into the meat. For our doneness the slow roast at a low temperature still only took about 35 minutes.
More importantly, however, we should talk about the sauce.
As soon as you have taken the tenderloin out of the pan, even before you tuck the meat into the oven, turn the heat under your pan down to medium and pour in the wine. Stir this up quickly as it froths and squeaks, because you’re both de-glazing the pan (snatching all the flavor from those crusty browned bits stuck to the bottom and incorporating them into the sauce) and starting to reduce your wine. Pour in the honey and let the mixture bubble away until it has reduced to about 2/3 cup.
When the sauce has reduced to a syrupy consistency, it’s done. The best way to check? Run your spoon along the bottom of the pan. If it can create a clear streak before quickly filling in, the sauce is ready. Take it off the heat and cover the pot with a lid until you’re ready to plate up the meat.
Now then, back to the tenderloin. When you’re cooking veal tenderloin you want to treat it more like beef than you would like pork. The meat is quite lean and should not be overcooked. However, like I said before, somewhere between a medium-rare to medium-well will yield juicy, flavorful meat that has enough pink to satisfy a bloody carnivore like me whilst still being palatable to your fussier guests.
If you have a meat thermometer, a good rule of thumb is to take the tenderloin out when it is between 128-142ºF. Tent the meat with tin foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing in. The internal temperature will continue to rise a few degrees after it is cooked, so if you stay at the lower end of the scale it will end up rising to about 130-132ºF (medium rare). If you opted to cook the meat a little bit more and head for the higher side of the scale, it will end up at about 145-150ºF (medium well). Keep an eye on it to make sure that the meat doesn’t overcook and dry out, but beyond that veal is quite forgiving.
After the beef has rested long enough for the juices to redistribute, plate it up by overlapping a few fat slices on your plate and drizzling the honeyed shiraz sauce overtop.
In terms of side dishes, I wanted to complement the exotic spice rubbed veal, smothered in a sweet honeyed wine sauce, but still keep that “roast beef and potatoes” feel. Ergo, it got plated up with a mound of creamy garam masala mashed potatoes and a simple lemony braised kale.
As far as apology dinners go, this one knocks it out of the park. Veal tenderloin is so tender and supple that it’s just got romance written all over it, and when you pair that with a deep and delicious sweet shiraz sauce? All your sins from the previous week become tabula rasa. True story.
Now pardon me while I go and sip some St. John’s Wort tea, because my attitude and behavior need to improve significantly before I try to feed him tofu again on Tuesday.