I don’t do a lot of pork recipes here on mezze & tapas. Partly, that is because culturally, pork is not part of the cuisine for much of the region. North African and the Middle East are largely Muslim. Pork is not considered halal and thus prohibited. Partly it is geographic. In Southern Europe, the landscape in Greece and the Balkans make raising pork more difficult, so it isn’t a large part of their diets either. When you move towards Italy, Southern France and Spain, you begin to see more pork in the foods. It shows up in sausages like chorizo and boudin blanc, and the classic Italian sausage. Pork also appears in the form of cured hams – think prosciutto, jamon iberico, and jambon de Bayonne.
My favorite cut of pork has to be the pork tenderloin. It is not very expensive and is super simple to cook. I find it the most tender and delicious cut that in my mind rivals beef when done well. Not only that, but pork tenderloin is very lean, so there is not a lot of pork fats to deal with. In fact, pork tenderloin has less fat and calories than chicken breast, but more protein according to the website calories-info.com
Today’s post will show you how to prepare a wonderful herb and spiced rub pork tenderloin. When cooked perfectly, and sliced into small medallions, this dish makes an elegant presentation. It is a dish worthy of company, but easy enough to make for a weeknight dinner. As always, use the herbs and spices in the recipe below as a guideline. Feel free to change up or swap out herbs, spices, or both to suit your personal preference. Because – ya – this dish is that versatile too.
Pork Tenderloin vs Pork Loin
The pork tenderloin is found just below the rib cage and along the spine. The same part in a cow is the beef tenderloin, which is where the filet mignon steaks come from. In pork, the muscle is too small to cut as individual steaks. But once we are finished cooking it, we’ll cut it into medallions that will be tender like little filet mignons.
Be careful not to confuse pork loin with pork tenderloin. Pork loin is where we get pork roasts, and pork chops. A full, uncut pork loin is about two and a half feet long, and about five inches across. A pork TENDER loin is only about ten inches long, and about two inches across. They are from different parts of the pig, and you have handle them differently. The two are not interchangeable, and don’t cook the same way. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy pork loin (I have a whole one in my fridge right now that I need to break down). But pork tenderloin is next level delicious!
Pork tenderloins are often sold two to a package. If you only need one, go ahead and freeze the other. The are also often sold prepackaged in a marinade. I always avoid these — the flavors are typically too salty, and I end up with much less control over how I flavor my meal. Take a moment to find the un-marinated pork tenderloin. It is often in the meat case, and wrapped in a foam tray by your local meat department. As for cost, I spent three dollars and thirty cents for the pork tenderloin I’m using here. It will feed two people, so the cost is defiantly a budget saver!
Removing the Silver Skin
Before we add the spice rub to the tenderloin, there is a detail that we need to see too. There is usually a small piece of what is called silver skin on one end of the tenderloin. What exactly is silver skin, and why does it need to be removed? Silver skin is the thin membrane of connective tissue found on various meats — in this case pork tenderloin. Named for its silvery white sheen, silver skin does not cook and is not really edible. It isn’t dangerous — but tough and leathery to chew, has no flavor and your body has difficulty digesting it. It is best to take it off before cooking.
Fortunately, removing silver skin is quick and easy. Start by laying the tenderloin on the board, silver skin up and closer to your ‘dominant hand’. If you’re a righty, point the silver skin towards the right side of the board. If you’re a lefty, toward the left end.
Take a small, sharp knife — a paring knife or boning knife is perfect for this job. Hold the knife in your dominant hand, and use the other to hold the tenderloin, behind the silver skin. Starting toward the middle of the tenderloin, slip the tip of the knife just under the silver skin. Gently press, rocking if necessary, to go all the way under it and slide out the other side. Aim the blade away from the hand holding the meat, and towards the edge of the cutting board.
The Key Is Angling the Knife Slightly Upward
Once you’re under the silver skin, very slightly angle the edge of the knife upwards. Now slowly, but firmly slide the knife under the silver skin and towards the edge of the cutting board. Hold the meat firmly with your other hand, and if you need to gently ‘saw’ the knife back and forth, go ahead and do that. You should slide until you get to the end of the sliver skin, and the knife pops out. Some people find it helpful to put a finger of the holding hand under the silver skin is being cut to hold it up, and away from the meat.
Once you have the one end of the meat cut, you can go back and cut the end you started at away from the meat. Discard the silver skin. It has no use, not even as compost.
That takes more time to explain than it really takes to do. But once the silver skin is removed, we can go ahead and add our spice rub to the pork tenderloin.
Next, we’ll turn our attention to the rub for the pork tenderloin. But before we do that lets get the heat going. Preheat the oven to 350. Then take a moment to turn on the pan for cooking the pork in to a medium high. I have a cast iron pan that I like to use for this. Any heavy bottomed pan will do, provided it is also oven save. When we are done searing the pork, we’re just going to keep it on this pan to slide in the oven, so be sure your pan is oven safe. You can also cook this on a grill, but just to sear. You will still need a pan for finishing in the oven.
The Herb and Spice Rub
For the Herb and Spice Rub, I created a blend of my own making. It relies on a base of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. The most prominent spice is smoked paprika, which is a go to favorite for me. To me, it evokes the flavors of Spain, which I think are perfect of this cut of pork. It helps to center our dish in that part of the Mediterranean – Southern Europe – where pork has a home. I also use a little bit of sugar to help with caramelizing the crust. I use thyme and rosemary for the herb part of the crust. You could also use herbs de provance or oregano if you would rather. Combine all the herbs and spices in a small bowl and mix before applying to the pork.
Add a bit of olive oil – just a teaspoon or two — on the pork as you rub the spices on to help them adhere. Sprinkle the rub over the top and gently press it into the pork. If some slides off the pork, that’s OK — just move the tenderloin around on the plate to start picking it up. Flip the pork over and add the rub to the other side. Coat the pork tenderloin as evenly as possible. Then let it sit for at least ten to fifteen minutes. If you want to, you can even do this up to a day ahead and leave it wrapped in the refrigerator.
There is not a lot of fuss to this Herb and Spice Crusted Pork Tenderloin. It will cook for about eight minutes on the stove top, and another ten in the oven. But in all that time, all you do is turn it once. That’s it. Not lots of baby sitting or messing around. That leaves you plenty of time to add make a nice side dish or two.
When you’re ready, put the pork tenderloin in your heated pan on the stovetop. Once the it is in the pan, set a timer for four minutes and just let it be. No need to touch it, turn it, poke it or prod it. Leave it alone. If it begins to smoke lightly, turn your exhaust fan on. At the end of the four minutes, turn it over and do the other side the same way. The new top should have a nice, deep crust on it where the meat has seared.
Now slide your pork tenderloin right into the oven in the same pan you’ve seared it in. Set a timer for ten minutes before your check on it.
Checking for Done
When it is time to check on the pork, have an instant read thermometer handy. Take the tenderloin out of the oven and close the door to maintain the oven’s heat. Press the tip of the thermometer into the end of the tenderloin. Go about half way into the pork. If your thermometer won’t go that far, go as far as you can. You want to measure the temperature at the center of the tenderloin
The pork needs to cook to 145oF, its safe cooking temperature. This dish is best eaten with the pork between 145oF and 150oF. It will still cook a bit even after you take it out of the oven. For a piece of meat this size, you can expect at least two to three more degrees of carry over cooking. So you want to pull your pork out at about 142oF to 143oF and let that ‘carry over’ get you to the final temperature.
By the way, when you cut into this, you may find it a bit more pink than you are used to. Pork is often overcooked because the old temperature guidelines for pork were much higher – 165oF. To me that left pork on the verge of dry and unpleasant. About five years ago, the USDA reset that temperature to the lower 145oF. I find that much more enjoyable to eat pork at that temperature. It is roughly equivalent to ‘medium’ in beef. A bit pink and pliable inside, not gray and hard.
If the pork is close, say high one thirties, go ahead and put it back in the oven, but just for a minute. If it is much further away, say in the mid nineties, go ahead and put it back in for five more minutes. Either way, repeat the checking process.
Resting and Slicing
Once the meat is at the proper temperature, take it out of the oven, put the meat on a clean plate, and cover it with a bowl or piece of aluminum foil. You want to let the meat rest before cutting it for two reasons. First, you want that carry over cooking we talked about to happen. Second, when you cook the meat, the internal juices become more liquid and move towards the surface of the meat. By letting it rest, you allow those juices to redistribute back into the entire cut of meat, but also get reabsorbed. The result is a juicer, more tender piece of meat.
Time to turn our attention to the cutting the pork and plating the meal. Move the pork tenderloin to a clean cutting board. You should be able to get seven to eight nice sized medallions, plus two irregular end pieces. I start by cutting at the pointed end of the tenderloin. Using a sharp knife, held at an angle, slice through the pork about three quarters of an inch to one inch from the end. This is your first ‘irregular’ end. Leave it in place, and move to the next cut.
Continue with the same angled cut down the whole piece of the tenderloin, leaving each piece in place. At the last, you’ll end up with your second irregular end. In between, you should have seven to eight beautiful pork medallions.
Plate and Enjoy!
Everything is ready — time to plate. Get your plates near by. Start by plating the pork. Using your knife as a lifter, gently slide under three to four medallions, and carry them to one of the plates. Move the ‘irregular end’ to the back of the pile to prop up the last piece. Then slide each piece a half inch or so off of the one next to it. You should end up with a nicely layered presentation of pork. Repeat the same thing for the remaining medallions on your second plate.
The Herb and Spice Crusted Pork Tenderloin pairs nicely with Sweet and Smoky Brussels Sprouts. . Together they will create an elegant presentation you will be proud to put on your table.
Herb and Spice Crusted Pork Tenderloin
- 1 pork tenderloins usually packaged 2 per package approx. 1-1 1/4 lbs.
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp black pepper freshly ground
- 1 tsp fresh sage chopped
- 1 tsp fresh thyme chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary chopped
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- Preheat Oven to 350oF and heat heavy bottom pan over high heat on stove top
- If necessary, remove silver skin from pork tenderloin
- Rub about 1 TB olive oil on each tenderloin.
- Sprinkle the rub mixture over both tenderloins and rub it into the pork – make sure you get it all over the meat. Let sit for about 10 minus
- Grill pork on grill pan, 4 mins per side, to develop nice grill marks and nice browning and crusting of the pork
- Transfer pork to oven to finish, leaving it on the pan it has been seared on
- Remove from oven when internal temperature of the pork reaches 145o F
- Let the meat rest, covered, for about 5 minutes.
- Slice about 3/4″ – 1″ think pieces and serve