Herb Pork Tenderloin

I think the pork tenderloin is one of the most under-appreciated pieces of meat out there. It’s cheap, versatile, plays well with many flavors, and cooks up in a snap. I guess I avoided it for so long because it comes in a vacuum-sealed pack, which instantly looks intimidating. But it’s really a good thing – they keep forever in the fridge when packaged thusly. The vacuum packs typically contain two or three tenderloins, each about ¾ of a pound, which is a great size for 2 people. You can cook them individually, or stuff them with some herbs and mustard, tie them together with cooking twine, and cook them as one big piece.

Here’s all you really need to prepare a beautiful pork tenderloin:

  1. Clean it up! You’ll need to do a little butchering – the tenderloin is typically a very lean piece of meat, but clean off any large pieces of the white stretchy fat. Additionally, there is one strip of “silverskin” connective tissue that is close to the end of the tenderloin. It’s much thicker than the fat, and easily discernible. You’ll need to cut this off because it’s rubbery and not delicious. To do so, simply slip the tip of a knife under the silverskin and remove it from the meat, gently guiding your knife between the trimming and the meat.
  2. It’s already dead! Everyone seems to want to cook the pants off their pork tenderloin. Overcooked, it’s dry and not particularly flavorful. Please don’t do it! Cook your tenderloin to 145 degrees just once and you’ll be a believer. (Minimum temperature to kill all the bad stuff is 137, so cooking to 145 plus the few degrees you’ll get during carry-over/resting.) I’ve resorted to only serving pork tenderloin to dinner guests by candle light, because under good lighting they see how pink it is inside and get a little squirrelly. Trust me: 145. Pink. Juicy. Piggy. Delicious.
  3. Rely on gadgets! A good meat thermometer is probably one of my top 3 favorite (and essential) kitchen gadgets. It means never again having to ask “is it done?” again. It also means never having to cut into a piece of meat to see if it’s done, either. Simply stick the probe into the thickest part of the meat and you’ll know exactly when the meat is (safely) finished cooking. Martha has a handy chart that not only lists the USDA guidelines, but also the temperatures that professional kitchens typically use. It’s not a bad idea to retest the temperature on another spot when you think it’s done.
  4. Let it rest! Many a delicious feasts have been ruined by impatient cooks. I know, it’s late, you want to eat. But just give any cut a few minutes to rest after cooking and your patience will be rewarded with a wonderfully juicy piece of meat. Remove the meat from the hot cooking pan, lightly tent with tin foil and wait for 10 whole minutes. Why? When cooking, the meat contracts and all the juices are concentrated in the center of the cut. If you cut into it at this point, all the juices run out. But when allowed to rest a few minutes, the juices redistribute and you have a juicier piece of meat. If you’re still not convinced, here’s a great article on resting meat.

I love Ina’s recipes, so was confident this one would be good. But isn’t it the best surprise when you make something seemingly ordinary and the next thing you know you’re about to lick the plate?! This recipe delivered. It gives the tenderloin a wonderful crust with distinct thyme, rosemary, lemon, and Dijon flavors. What a great combo. And it’s a quick, easy meal. I paired it with some fresh sugar snap peas (trim ends, sauté for 5 minutes over medium with a scant pat of butter, kosher salt and pepper) for a dinner that was a step above normal weeknight fare.

If you haven’t given any of Ina Garten’s recipes a try, I highly recommend them. She’s known on the food network for her Barefoot Contessa show, and her recipes reliably deliver delicious French-inspired food that looks much trickier than it is. When I first started cooking, her cookbooks were my primers. I still will cook pretty much anything she recommends. Though maybe it’s just because she’s an east-coaster, too. Enjoy!

Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloins

Click here to print this recipe.
From Ina Garten
Serves: 3
Active time: approx. 20 minutes + marinade

1 lemon, zest grated
juice of 2 freshly squeezed lemons
¼ cup good olive oil
1 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
1 pork tenderloins (about 1 pound each)
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, mustard, and 2 teaspoons salt in a sturdy 1-gallon resealable plastic bag. Add the pork tenderloins and turn to coat with the marinade. Squeeze out the air, seal the bag, and marinate the pork in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and discard the marinade but leave the herbs that cling to the meat.

Sprinkle the tenderloins generously with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large oven-proof sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sear the pork tenderloins on all sides until golden brown. Place the sauté pan in the oven and roast the tenderloins until the meat registers 145 degrees F at the thickest part (about 10 minutes).

Transfer the tenderloins to a platter and tent lightly with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Carve in 1/2-inch-thick diagonal slices. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm, or at room temperature with the juices that collect in the platter.

The marinade recipe can easily handle up to three tenderloins, though you may need to add up to an additional 1/4 cup olive oil to produce enough liquid. In Ina’s original recipe, she indicates to marinade for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. I am never organized enough to marinate anything for very long, and found the tenderloin to be perfectly delicious with plenty of bold marinade flavors after just an hour.

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Comments: 4

  1. sue August 30, 2009 at 9:45 pm Reply

    I made the roast pork loin and it was great – you were right -I thought it would be good, but it was amazing! Thanks What advice do you have for a good olive oil to cook with?

  2. seattlepalate August 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm Reply

    For every day cooking, I like the Whole Foods 365 brand – It’s a good value and has a nice balanced flavor. Whole Foods also carries Sanso, which is from Spain – also a wonderful oil, but more expensive. Colavita is readily available at most grocery stores and comes in a tin can, which is supposed to preserve the oil.

    I keep hearing about wonderful olive oils coming out of the grape-growing regions in California. Haven’t found any good ones at my local market yet though.

    Generally, you want to purchase a smaller bottle so it doesn’t sit in your cabinet for 6 months. It’s also best to keep in in a cool, dark place. Regular Olive Oil has a higher flash point, so it’s better to use for cooking. Extra Virgin is better for applications like drizzling and vinaigrettes.

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