Pork Tenderloin: Filet Mignon For Pork Lovers

Pork has a bad health rap, and with some good reason. Pigs of yore were fatty and sometimes provided hospitable breeding grounds for the really nasty organism that causes trichinosis. But pigs today are raised differently; they're bred and fed to be lean and mean. Pork tenderloins in your supermarket don't have much more fat content than the white meat of a chicken. However, you still don't want to eat rare or tartare pork!

There's some justification for that old "other white meat" ad campaign. A 3-ounce portion of pork has about 100 calories, with only about a quarter of them coming from fat. The white meat of a chicken has slightly fewer calories, with about 12 percent from fat. Dark meat is slightly higher than pork both in calories and in fat.

If you've been taught that pork has to be prepared well-done, forget it. A properly cooked tenderloin is pale pink (if you're the temperature-taking type, that's about 150 degrees F) and poses no threat of trichinosis. We've pretty much wiped out the organism in this country, but it's killed at 137 degrees anyway.

Anatomically, the tenderloin cut is to pork what filet mignon is to beef. They come from the same part of the animal - a small strip of meat running along the backbone. The pork tenderloin is, of course, smaller. An average tenderloin is about 12 ounces, enough for two generous portions or three skimpier ones.

Because it's so low in fat, tenderloin lends itself better to dry-heat cooking (roasting, pan-frying, grilling) than moist-heat cooking (stewing, braising, poaching).

  • Butterfly the tenderloin by cutting it lengthwise through all but about a half inch of its width. Spread the two halves like a book and flatten the meat. (The objective is to get a flat piece of meat of uniform thickness.) Coat the tenderloin with salt and pepper or a spice rub, and grill it for about 5 minutes per side.
  • Slice the tenderloin into medallions about 1/2 inch thick, and marinate them in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, and a little honey. Pan-fry and serve over a bed of spinach or any other leafy green.
  • Mash a few garlic cloves in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and add some black pepper and crushed fennel seeds. Coat the tenderloin with the mixture. Roast for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees.
  • Skewer bite-size tenderloin pieces with slices of sweet onion and red pepper. (Marinate the meat beforehand, if you like.) Grill or broil the skewers for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Tenderloin has pork's traditional affinity for fruit; serve it with a chutney, compote, or fruity salsa.

Keep in mind that you can also stuff a butterflied one with almost anything including green leafy veggies that you would never think would go well inside a pork tenderloin. Some of the best green things to stick in there include baby spinach, arugula, watercress, and even… gasp… lettuce. You have to try the last one for yourself to confirm just how tasty and delectable it really is!

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