There's simply no way around it: The pork tenderloin is weird-lookin'. It's shaped—well, dammit, it's shaped like a big ol' penis. You unwrap it from the butcher paper and you step back and you go, damn, man, this pork tenderloin looks like a dong. Can I manipulate this giant dong? This seems weird. Is this weird? When I told the butcher I was lookin' for a big cut of hog, did he hear an extra "f" in there?
That its unfortunate resemblance to a forearm-sized phallus might account for the relative modesty of the pork tenderloin's status among foodstuffs is a bummer of a thought. Because, seriously, the pork tenderloin is a great cut of meat! It's flavorful and tender and easy to prepare. It accommodates different flavor profiles and cooking techniques and side dishes. It transforms into lovely, deceptively fancy-looking medallions, once you get past the part where you feel like you're sectioning a huge dong. People should make better use of pork tenderloins. You should.
In fact, dammit, let's do it right now. Right now! Let's cook a pork tenderloin right now. I promise it will be only moderately uncomfortable.
First of all, acquire some amount of pork tenderloin. Tenderloins come in various sizes, of course—most likely you'll find them in the pound-and-a-quarter range; a tenderloin of this size will provide a round of porky deliciousness to three reasonably hungry adults if you pair it with some other stuff, especially if that stuff is edible and not a fistful of dryer lint. Then again, it will leave no leftovers for those adults, which might be a problem, since it's going to taste very good. What I am trying to say here is that you might want two tenderloins if you're feeding more than two people. Decide for yourself.
Also! If you can, do yourself a favor and see about finding tenderloin(s) from pigs that were raised humanely and fed well. If the ethical, humane reasons to do this don't move you, please do trust that the difference in flavor certainly will. The industrial meat-production methods that we all kinda know are monstrously cruel to the animals we eat also happen to be ruinous to the flavor and quality of the meat we get from them. It's worth paying a few extra bucks to get pork from an animal that had a decent life; even if you don't particularly care how the animal lived, surely you can be moved to care how it tastes.
So. Moving on. Take your pork tenderloin home, unwrap it, chuckle to yourself about how much it looks like a giant penis; then, pat your tenderloin dry with a paper towel and set it aside for a second while you prepare a marinade.
Maybe you have your favorite marinade; maybe it serves you well when you make grilled chicken or flank steak or whatever; so long as it does not come in a plastic bottle with the words "Italian Dressing" on it, hey, suit yourself. On the other hand, if for some reason you're in the mood to defer to an Internet Food Person for marinade guidance, you can whisk together a couple big cloves' worth of minced garlic, a palmful of grated ginger, a few splashes each of low-sodium soy sauce (low-sodium so that you can decide for yourself how salty to make your marinade) and rice (or, in a pinch, white) vinegar, a couple glugs of sesame oil, a nice big squeeze from the honey bear, and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes in a cereal bowl, then add salt to taste until, when you dip a finger into the marinade and insert that finger into your mouth, your eyes roll over white and you bite that finger right the fuck off and chew and swallow it. There. Marinade. Band-aid?
You only need maybe a cup and a half or two cups of the marinade, but if you've got that much already and it doesn't taste the way you want it to, go ahead and adjust the proportions until it tastes how you want it; you can store any extra marinade in a jar in the fridge for a while, and you'll definitely use it again, because it tastes good and is super versatile. Meanwhile, dump maybe two cups or so of the marinade into a sturdy one-gallon freezer bag, stick the tenderloin in there, press the air out of the bag and seal it, then roll it up around itself and leave it alone for an hour.
If for some reason you need to leave the tenderloin in the marinade for longer than an hour—like, if you're hoping to marinate it while you're at work and then cook it as soon as you get home—stick it in the fridge to ensure things don't get disgusting while you're gone. Probably it's not the absolute best idea to marinate your tenderloin for longer than a few hours; it likely won't get ruined by this, but its texture may change or it may get too marinade-flavored or maybe it will drink up the marinade and come to life and scoot around your home like a large, pink, discomfitingly phallic slug, chasing your pets—but probably not. Who knows. In any event, it definitely doesn't need more than an hour in the marinade.
While the pork marinates, preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a roasting pan or casserole dish with aluminum foil. The foil-lining part isn't necessary from a cooking standpoint, but damn does it ever make stuff easier to clean.
When your pork has had at least an hour to hang out in the marinade and you're ready to cook it, remove the tenderloin from the plastic bag, letting the liquid drip off the tenderloin and back into the bag (you're gonna use it in a bit), and get any excess marinade off of the tenderloin. Basically this means patting it dry with another paper towel and shaking off any bits of minced garlic or shaved ginger that have stuck to it, so that these won't burn when you cook this thing in a minute. Next, season the tenderloin generously with salt and freshly-ground black pepper, all over.
Now, haul out your widest cast-iron or stainless steel skillet or sauté pan or saucier pan or whatever, and get your pan nice and hot over high heat on your stovetop. In truth, you can also do this with a nonstick pan if that's all you have—that is to say, a nonstick pan can be used to produce a perfectly tasty pork tenderloin, leaving aside the question of whether heating that pan's spooky nonstick chemicals to searing temperatures also will cause it to coat that tenderloin in an odorless, tasteless glaze of pure cancer-juice. If you have alternatives, cast-iron is your best bet, followed by stainless steel, if only because stainless steel is a much bigger pain in the ass to clean than a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, its dumb misleading name notwithstanding.
Pan good and hot? Tee-riffic. Pour a glug of vegetable oil into the pan and sear the absolute bejesus out of the entire outer surface of your pork tenderloin. Start by giving whichever side first hits the pan a good, solid, uninterrupted minute of searing before you so much as touch it; it might produce a large volume of terrifying smoke, but that's OK, unless it also produces an actual fire, in which case, holy shit, what did you do.
After about a minute of uninterrupted searing action, when that first side is good and seared—that is to say, when it is super-dark-brown-verging-on-black and crusty all over, not when it has some faint interpretive brownness to it and ooh, oh jeez, but what if I overcook it, I don't want to overcook it, mew mew—and your home has attracted many of your town's heroic first responders, grab that tenderloin with the tongs and roll it over, so the opposite side can have a full minute of uninterrupted searing. After that minute, roll it again, onto any parts of it that don't look like they lost a fight to Truckasaurus, and so on, until the whole damn thing looks like it lost a fight to Truckasaurus. All told, it should take you about four or five minutes over high heat to get your tenderloin seared all over.
Which, goddammit, look. Searing a piece of meat can be scary when you've never really done it before. All the smoke and the high terrifying sound and the sense that the meat could go from raw to burnt in a really small period of time—it's intimidating! The temptation to skip that step, and crank out a sad grey finished product instead, is real, but you must resist. You must sear the ever-loving motherfuck out of your meat! This is your birthright as a human, as well as the psychological portal to delicious meat.
The mistake people make is being big wusses about the temperature. Real searing temperatures seem wrong and dangerous, seem scary, and so these folks "sear" their steak or chop or tenderloin or whatever over medium-ish heat, thinking this widens their margin of error. But, really all it does is slow the formation of a sexy seared crust, so that the interior of the meat cooks while it waits for the exterior to get where it needs to be. Believe it or not, scary real-deal high heat is your friend, when you're trying to sear a big hunk of meat: It hustles that exterior surface to a nice crispy brown long before the interior has a chance to do more than warm up marginally.
That is to say: Be brave. Sear the hell out of your pork tenderloin. You can do it. I believe in you!
In any case, whenever you're done futzing around with the stovetop and making an ass of yourself, transfer the tenderloin from the pan to the foil-lined roasting pan or casserole dish you set up earlier. Pour the remaining marinade from the freezer bag over the tenderloin in the roasting pan, then sock that damn thing in the preheated oven and set a timer for 20 minutes.
You can use this time to make some rice or risotto or mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower or salad or whatever particular thing you want to serve with your pork tenderloin, or you can use it to practice your thumb-twiddling. Suit yourself. In 20 minutes that timer will go off; haul your pork tenderloin out of the oven. Lean over it and take a whiff. Ohhhhhhh man. Pork and sesame and garlic and ginger and will you please put your shirt back on.
You'll notice there's some syrupy liquid in the pan—the marinade, plus some of the juices from the pork, mixed together and thicker than it was when you put it in the oven. Spoon some of this liquid over the tenderloin; you'll notice it adheres pretty nicely, since it thickened as it cooked. Let the tenderloin rest for, oh, eight or 10 minutes or so, maybe visiting it a couple times to spoon the liquid over top of it again.
While the tenderloin rests, its residual heat is bringing it to perfect doneness, and its juices are redistributing themselves so that when you slice it, they won't gush out in a big gross deluge, but will mostly remain suspended in the meat. Hey, speaking of slicing, after those eight or 10 minutes, move the tenderloin to a cutting board and slice it crosswise, on a slight diagonal, into medallions maybe three quarters of an inch thick. There. That's it. You roasted a pork tenderloin. Now you can serve it.
Array those beautiful pork medallions—pretty pink on the inside and a glistening, deep, dark, glazed brown on the outside— in an overlapping fan around or poking out from under whatever other food will be accompanying them on the journey to your churning insides. A simple green salad is nice; so is some plain, fluffy white rice, sliced scallions, and some fresh broccoli steamed with chili flakes and garlic. If there's any of that syrupy liquid left in the roasting pan, drizzle some of it out of a spoon onto the pork on the plate for a nice-looking and -tasting touch.
Crack open the grownup beverage of your choice. Dig in. Wonder—when the multiple accompanying flavors parade across your palate organized into aching harmony by the warm and perfect pork—why you don't do this more often. Resolve to. Be happy. Smile: At the happy people happily sharing this meal with you; at the pristine joy of being alive to taste and sense pleasurable things; and, in appreciation of this cheap tube of pig shaped like a big fuckin' peener.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. Peevishly correct his foolishness on Twitter @albertburneko, or send him your creepy longform hate-missives at email@example.com. Image by Sam Woolley.