Monday, January 20, 2014

2014: Year of the Horse... and pig, and cow, and chicken, and lamb

Happy 2014! Following an inexcusable hibernation, I am back with a special announcement to make: After 5 years as a pescatarian, 2 years as a vegan, and an additional 7 or 8 years without red meat, I have decided to go whole hog back into the omnivorous world.

That's right-- I am now eating and cooking meat. Don't get me wrong... I have never been and will probably never be a meat-and-potatoes kind of girl. I adore my veggies, crave fish, and don't see that changing any time soon. However, I was beginning to realize that my love for all things food and cooking related was being stifled by my non-meat diet. If my goal is to become a truly proficient cook, I need to know how to cook meat. And if I am going to cook meat, I need to taste it and check the quality. So there we have it. Being my prudent self, I began with a couple bites of chicken breast. I ordered a seafood chowder at DBGB this weekend with little bits of bacon in it. I have not had an entire serving of meat yet, which is probably good. After all, I have my whole life ahead of me!

It has been pretty cold in New York, and it's the post-Christmas winter that gets to me the most. However, I have been thrilled with my winter farm share through the Corbin Hill Food Project and have actually been enjoying winter through its produce. I wanted to kick off the new year (and new dietary horizons) with a lean but quintessential cold-weather dish: Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin. It just oozes wintery sentiments, doesn't it?

America's Test Kitchen is always a fantastic bet for recipes that thrive on precision and science, and I felt that as a first time pork cooker, I could use that security. So this week I made their version of a Maple Roasted Pork Tenderloin.



About Pork Tenderloin
I used to hear Tenderloin and think of the San Francisco neighborhood. It has a bad reputation, which I always tend to confront with cynicism (just because it is a low-income area doesn't mean it is a dangerous one). But I remember taking a bus through there on a recent visit, having to transfer, and the second I stood up to walk off the bus I heard a gun shot. Needless to say, I did not transfer! So THIS is what used to come to mind when I heard "tenderloin." Time for some re-imaging.

In the meat world, pork tenderloin is considered the most tender of the cuts of pork because it is a lower side/back muscle that is used for posture, not motion. Fascinating! You can see its long, narrow shape in this handy diagram:
Not only can you see the cuts of meat, but you can learn the terms in Swedish too... va ballt! 

Since the tenderloin is so... tender, it can easily cook through and dry up on the stovetop, so most recipes recommend searing the edges and finishing it in the oven.

Alton Brown ran an episode of Good Eats dedicated to pork tenderloin: "Tender is the Pork." It's available on Amazon (for free if you have Prime!) and definitely worth a watch. My key takeaway from the video: Remove the "silverskin," which is the tough, thin, almost iridescent little skin that covers part of the tenderloin. Once you do that, it is ready to go!

Nutrition-wise, pork tenderloin and boneless, skinless chicken breast find themselves the subjects of many comparisons. With a difference of only 20 calories for a 3 ounce portion, pork tenderloin is a little bit leaner. Men's Health (a weird source for me to consult, but men's websites are what come up when searching for meat comparisons) identifies chicken as an excellent source of niacin, leucine, and omega-3s, while pork takes the cake on zinc, B vitamins, and selenium

In sum, these are both lean and healthy cuts of meat. Next time you are walking down the vitamin aisle at Whole Foods, take a stroll over to the butcher and see if you can get your nutrients there!

The Recipe:
You all know that I am an America's Test Kitchen devotee. I love their recipes, watch their shows, listen to their podcast, and can't seem to go shopping for a kitchen device without looking up their product reviews first.

What I liked about ATK's pork tenderloin recipe is that it recognized the issues that arise when trying to glaze a piece of meat-- namely, that the glaze does not stick. They solved that in three ways, which I feel can be applied to any glazed item:

  1. Coat in a corn starch, sugar, and salt mixture that will dry out and caramelize into a nook-filled surface before the glaze is applied (a drier surface keeps the glaze on, while nooks and crannies keep the glaze trapped inside)
  2. Reduce the glaze. Thicker is better, and it can always be softened up in the microwave. In this recipe, 2 cups was reduced to about 1/2 cup.
  3. Layer after layer. First glaze before putting the meat in the oven, second glaze when the meat is almost done, third glaze just before the resting period, and final glaze/sauce right before serving.


Once I felt confident that the glaze would actually stick, I proceeded...

Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Memorized from America's Test Kitchen
Yield: 6 servings (4 if you are really hungry)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pork tenderloins (1.25 lbs each), trimmed and silver skin removed
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • a few cracks of black pepper
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup (not the fake stuff)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp bourbon
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp grainy mustard


Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Mix the cornstarch, salt, sugar, and pepper in a bowl, then spread out on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Blot excess moisture from the tenderloins and roll in the cornstarch mixture. Bang against a hard surface so any extra cornstarch falls off (I placed a cutting board vertically in the sink) and discard extra cornstarch.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and place the tenderloins in the oil, side by side. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side on medium-high, until all sides are nice and browned.
  • Meanwhile, you can quickly assemble the glaze by pouring the maple syrup, molasses, cinnamon, cayenne, and bourbon into a measuring cup.
  • When the tenderloins are browned on all sides (about 8 minutes), transfer them to a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. 
  • Lower the heat under the pan, and pour the maple mixture (all but 1/4 cup) into the pan. Stir frequently as it bubbles and boils, eventually reducing to 1/2 cup. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Brush a healthy dose of the reduced maple glaze on top of each piece of the pork tenderloin. You will be doing this three times, so ration accordingly.
  • After the first glaze, place the tenderloins into the oven (middle rack). Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 130°F.
  • Add another layer of glaze and return to the oven until the internal temperature of the pork hovers around 140°F (2-4 minutes)
  • Remove and glaze one more time (you may need to microwave the glaze for 20 seconds if it is too sticky). Let sit, uncovered, to rest.
  • Add mustard to the 1/4 cup of reserved glaze and mix well.
  • Cut into 1/4 inch pieces with a serrated knife. Drizzle with the mustardy glaze and serve with the sides of your choice.



The Results:
This was a huge success! Glazing is obviously more work-intensive than just marinading and baking, but it was well worth the effort. The glaze stuck to the meat, clinging on in luscious layers of sweet maple flavor. It was just a little bit pink inside, keeping it tender (I only used my knife a couple of times) and juicy (not bloody, which has always been and will always be gross in my book).

My roommate and I have a winter farm share, and the pork tenderloin was the perfect protein to accompany our curried parsnip and carrot puree. The dish exuded wintery comfort, and it opened my eyes to the healthy meat possibilities out there. 

Here's to more delicious recipes in 2014. Send me a comment with recommendations for my now omnivorous walking cookbook repertoire! 

The beauty of glaze: 1st layer vs 3rd layer makes a huge difference!

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