Pistachio Crusted Pork Tenderloin
We’ve been a little bit porcentric (Tina term: the state of being smitten with all things pig) lately, or at least that’s how it feels. Pork loin, tenderloin, butt, chops, bacon, ham – I adore all that oinks. It’s to the point where I feel a bit like an underpaid spokesperson for the Ontario pork industry, but why not? Right now, in our neck of the woods, pork is incredibly affordable and two tenderloins cost me just $1 more than the two chicken breasts that I had been eyeballing moments before. That would almost be alarming if it wasn’t so grand.
I think that pork gets a bad rap. There are people who won’t eat pork because they think it’s too fatty, but consider a trimmed tenderloin which has less fat per weight than certain types of salmon. There are also the people who won’t eat pork because it’s too chewy and dry, and to all those people: stop cooking it too long. The last big group of anti-porkers are those that have concerns because of their religious affiliations. For that group…..yeah. Okay. That’s cool. But for everyone else? Give it another try. Isn’t it about time that you stopped eating chicken 5 days a week?
My favorite cut of pork is probably the fatty, flavorful butt or shoulder, but I’m much more likely to purchase a pork loin or tenderloin for everyday eating. Pork tenderloin is lean, tender, and quick cooking which makes it a shoo-in for weeknight dinners. There’s also the inherent elegance of anything tenderloin, which makes it seem like you’re saying, “I value your company so I made something special”, when really you’re saying, “Yeah. It was cheaper than ribs. Eat up!”
Now that we’re in December, our calendar (which is hectic and debilitating at the best of times) has taken a nose-dive into the zone of Really Need A Vacation Please Give Me A Vacation. Have you ever had to say to someone, “Of course, I want to see you too! How about next…um…..okay, so every Friday, Saturday and Sunday is booked for the next five weeks, but how about a Tuesday? No, not that Tuesday, I’ve got dinner plans. No, not that Tuesday either…..” because it’s awful you feel like a condescending troll. ‘Tis the season when you walk through the mall and consider buying 5 new pairs of panties for $25 because, frankly, you don’t know when you’ll have a chance to catch up on the laundry. This is the time of year when it’s not a bad idea to start buying wine by the case, and it’s not just for unexpected guests, if you know what I mean. But keeping that all in mind, AS IF I’d give up entertaining. That’s just not going to happen. Sleep, possibly. Entertaining? Not a chance.
Pork tenderloin is a go-to dinner party dish for me (as long as my guests aren’t vegetarian, Muslim, Jewish, Adventist….okay, so it’s one of a couple go-to dishes) because it cooks up in no time flat with minimal effort, and wins you praise like it’s going out of style. The recipe that I’m sharing with you today is one that you can turn to when you realize that it’s 5:30, you’ve been stuck at the mall trying desperately to get out of the parking lot since 4:45, and your guests are due in less than an hour. You have two great choices:
1) Frantically call a local traditional Italian pizzeria. Give them key instructions to turn off their lights when they crest the corner of your street, and obviously delivery will be to your back door.
2) Dazzle your guests with this delightfully simple but impressive recipe.
Hey, I’m no Rachel Ray and this is not a 30 minute meal, but it comes pretty darn close…and without all the “Eeee Veeee Ohhh Ohhhhh” to boot. If you put a pot of water on to boil when you preheat the oven, by the time that your pork is rested and ready you can also have cobbled together a cranberry and cilantro spiked orzo salad (with garam masala and lime. I’d say “Yumm-o!” but then I’d have to stick my head in the oven, so I’ll let that pass) and garlicky dandelion greens braised with lemon and mint. This has ‘dinner party’ written all over it, but without all that pesky sweat and effort that makes you wonder if it wouldn’t have just been a better idea to go out after all.
Pistachio Crusted Pork Tenderloin
Serves 6 *
- 2 trimmed pork tenderloin (1.5 lb)
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp orange marmalade
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3/4″ chunk ginger root
- 1.5 cups shelled pistachio **
- 6-8 shakes tabasco sauce, optional
- salt and pepper to taste
* Do two pork tenderloins serve 6? Because I don’t know. I’ve seen some recipes where a single pork tenderloin apparently serves 4 (LIES! Miserly LIES!) and then again there are nights when Mike and I will eat a pork tenderloin on our own….just the 2 of us. I think that 2 pork tenderloins for 4 people might be a bit excessive, under most circumstances, but I just can’t see this feeding 8. Anyway, you use your discretion, and this is probably just the perfect amount to serve 6. Or, at least, such is my theory.
** Cracking and shelling pistachios is kind of a zen activity for me, if by “zen” I am referring to “deliciously mindless and repetitive”. There are times when it’s just nice to shut the brain off and do a simple, easy task for 10 minutes. Then again, there are also times when you want dinner on the table sooner rather than later and spending an extra $1.50 for shelled pistachios seems well worth the money. Salted pistachios are preferred, but try to look for the pistachios which are not already toasted because they’ll become brittle when the tenderloins cook. When I have the chance I like to chop some regularly used/roatated nuts in advance and keep them in my freezer for emergencies such as this. It saves time, and convenience isn’t always a dirty word.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
Trim any residual fat and sinew from your pork tenderloins and pat them dry using paper towel or a clean tea towel that you don’t mind throwing immediately into the washing machine post-pork. Season the dry tenderloins liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Leave them out and uncovered while you get the other ingredients ready.
Dollop the oyster sauce and marmalade into a small bowl. Finely mince the garlic and ginger, scraping and pressing until they’re pulpy, or grate them using a rasp/microplane. You don’t want any chunks. If you feel the yen, shake in 6-8 large drops of tabasco (or another spicy, concentrated chili sauce like Piri Piri). Whisk this all together.
Pulse the pistachios 10-12 times in a food processor until they have the consistency of coarse crumbs. It’s totally alright if there are some slightly larger chunks and other parts which are ground almost to powder. The texture doesn’t need to be uniform, but you don’t want to over or under process the nuts. If they’re over-processed you won’t get a pretty crust and they may brown too much in the oven. If they’re under-processed you’ll find it more difficult to have them adhere and the crust will be as spotty as the first beard of a 15 year old boy.
Brush the tenderloins all over with the oyster sauce and marmalade mixture. Make sure that they’re thinly but evenly coated to be nice and sticky. Don’t just dollop the sauce on or it will be too loose for the pistachios to form a shell.
Dredge the tenderloins all over with the crushed pistachio, pressing gently so that the nut crust adheres. I find that an easy way to do this is to spread half of the pistachio in a long line down the center of a baking sheet and place a tenderloin on top. Turn it, pressing down gently, until the whole thing is covered. The excess pistachio can be lifted and pressed manually into any blank spots that you might have.
To rack or not to rack, that is the question. Let’s talk about this. If you set a lightly oiled rack inside your roasting pan this will allow for air circulation and help the crust on the tenderloin to stay crispier all around. The con, however, is that some of the crust may stick to the rack or, worse yet, fall off into the roasting pan equivalent of no-man’s land. If you put the tenderloins directly into a lightly sprayed pan the weight of the meat will force the nut crust to stay put, but any fluid leakage (which happens, that’s just life) means that the nuts will get a bit gummy and soft. So there you have it – pick your poison. I opted for the rack because any derelict pistachio crumbs can always be used for garnish when the dish is done.
Roast the tenderloins in the center of your hot oven for about 25 minutes (give or take – 400º in your oven is probably not the same as 400º in your sister’s) or until the internal temperature has reached 140-145ºF and the tenderloins feel fairly firm to the touch. Tent the tenderloins with tin foil and let them rest for 10 minutes before slicing in. This is the perfect time to finish off the rest of dinner.
Speaking of resting meat, I was talking about timing to one of my brothers last summer as he prepared for a barbecue. My brother is a charming, funny, talented man. It really makes me quite irritable, truth be told. When he went on parental leave he started to spread his culinary wings and experiment more in the kitchen, and now he could cook me under the table any day of the week (damn him anyway). So we’re talking about this, that and the other, and I said, “Oh, that’s cool, because you can put the corn on during that last 10 minutes when the meat is resting.” There was a pause. “Resting…….?” he asked. Um, yes. Resting. As in the essential time lapse when you let your meat relax and redistribute all those angrily delicious juices before cutting in. He had no idea what I was talking about. At one point he even asked if this was my classically enchanting (my words, not his) sense of humor in play, and whether I was really just trying to trick him into serving his guests cold meat. Okay, I’m a jerk, but I’m not that much of a jerk.
When you rest your meat it allows the juices to redistribute. Cutting into your meat too soon will actually dry it out as all the liquids flood out onto your cutting board. Even just 5-10 minutes for a steak or tenderloin (10 for a chicken, 15-20 for a roast, 20-25 for a turkey……size does matter) can make the difference between dry, overcooked tasting meat and succulent, juicy fabulosity (new word). If you cut into the tenderloin right away you would have that gray, chewy and tough meat that you so loved as a child, but a scant 10 minutes to yield a blush of pink and tender juices to spare is well worth it in my opinion.
Okay, I’ll just say it: this dinner is sexy. There is a salty but buttery nut-crunch of the pistachio, married with the softly tender meat, and all enveloped in a lingering sweet but savory and almost exotic hum coming in from the glaze. This is easy elegance, and the kind of dinner that comes together in a snap at a time when your guests don’t need to know that. I mean, holiday entertaining is fun and all, but having time to drown your mall-induced sorrows in Riesling solitude before your guests arrive is pretty awesome too.
It’s dollars to donuts that most of what you’re going to see from us in the next few weeks are meals that can be made fast on the fly or with a minimal effort. I mean, that’s the best that we can do right now in the midst of our ‘holiday joy’, so it’s probably right about where you’re at too. Let’s just get through this last hurdle of a month and then I promise to make a ridiculous multi-step, multi-day and entirely unapproachable Julia Child style meal, just for you. Cheers!