Food & Drink

How do you keep the tender in pork tenderloin?

Stuffing a butterflied tenderloin with shallots, herbs and capers keeps it juicy and adds more flavor.
Stuffing a butterflied tenderloin with shallots, herbs and capers keeps it juicy and adds more flavor. Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times

When it comes to pork, I'll happily eat the ears. I'll linger over the liver, fricassee the feet, chomp on the chops. I’d even figure out how to cook the oink if I could get my hands on it.

The only cut that has left me cold is the tenderloin.

A thin, lean muscle that runs along the central spine of the pig, its name reflects its reputation as one of the most tender cuts. But that’s only if you don’t overcook it.

The tenderloin contains very little fat, so overcooking can happen in the mere seconds it takes to dig your meat thermometer out of the drawer, turning a potentially juicy piece of pork dry and tough.

For years I avoided the tenderloin, choosing the fattier options. But at a friend’s suggestion, I recently gave it another go. After all, pork tenderloin is easy to find and fast to cook, making it weeknight friendly. My goal was to come up with a surefire recipe that helps preserve the moisture of the meat.

One solution is to stuff the meat with something that will keep its moisture and zip up its inherently mild character. A pungent mix of shallots, capers and herbs accomplishes both.

The best way to stuff a pork tenderloin is to butterfly it – that is, cut it in half lengthwise, but not quite all the way through, keeping the two pieces attached so you can open the cut like a book. This gives you maximum space for stuffing. Then all you have to do is close it up, tying it with some kitchen twine to so the filling doesn’t escape in the pan.

About the word “pink”: You should take your pork off the heat while it’s still a little pink on the inside. An internal temperature of 145 degrees will give you succulent meat that lives up to its name, a tender loin that is flavorful, too.

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed With Herbs and Capers

1 3/4 pounds pork tenderloin

1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 shallots, minced

2 1/2 tablespoons minced capers, plus a splash of their liquid, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons chopped sage, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped thyme, divided

1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced

1 tablespoon dry white wine or vermouth (or use more stock)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup pork, chicken or other meat stock

1 to 2 tablespoons butter

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice pork tenderloin lengthwise to butterfly it, but don’t quite slice all the way through: The 2 pieces should remain attached. Season with salt and pepper, then let sit while you prepare filling.

In a large, oven-safe skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Stir in shallots, 1/2 tablespoon capers, 2 teaspoons sage, 1 teaspoon rosemary, 1 teaspoon thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Stirring frequently, cook until shallots start to brown, about 5 minutes, then stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. (Adjust heat if necessary to prevent burning.) Transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Wipe out skillet and reserve.

Spread cooled filling evenly on pork, then close pork, along the hinge, like a book. Fold the thinner end up against the thicker portion so that pork is the same width all over. Tie with kitchen twine at 1 1/2-inch intervals.

In the same skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Place tenderloin seam-side up in the skillet, then transfer to oven and roast for 15 minutes. Flip pork over and continue roasting until meat reaches 140 to 145 degrees in the center, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer meat to a cutting board to rest; reserve skillet and juices.

While the meat rests, make the sauce: Heat skillet over medium-high heat, then stir in vermouth and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon each sage, rosemary and thyme, scraping up the browned bits on bottom of pan. Cook until vermouth is almost evaporated, then add orange juice and stock. Cook over medium-high heat until thickened and syrupy. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons capers, their liquid and the butter; season with salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce tastes too sweet, add a squeeze of lemon juice.

To serve, slice pork into 1/2-inch-thick slices and top with sauce.

Yield: 4 servings

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