If an inanimate object ever had the ability to redeem itself, I’d give that award to the humble pig. Whilst its pork chops may have lay lifeless and dry as the Gobi desert on my plate a dozen years ago, and its Clark Gable roast (dependably fresh from Austin’s market in Allouez, Wisconsin, just across Hwy 172 from Green Bay) slumped as it suffocated under sauerkraut, I suffered from sore jaws and a parched throat. As a child, I wondered: could pork be anything other than the culinary substitute for sawdust? Was the only edible part of a pig the bit that ended up as bacon?
Alas – thankfully – I was wrong. Mistaken and misguided, big time. One day when I was in 4th or 5th grade, my older sister – who had a streak of the adventurous chef in her and the inclination to steer our whole family toward her nutritious cooking ideals – decided to make the family a dinner of brown rice and green beans (probably with soy sauce on the brown rice, since that’s all we knew to put on rice, sadly) and … marinated pork tenderloin. Honestly, I have no idea where this dinner came from, whether it began as a seed in her imagination or if she saw a recipe in one of my mom’s Good Housekeeping issues, but this meal changed my life. None of us had eaten pork tenderloin before – I think it was a bit too exotic for our local Copp’s, Piggly-Wiggly, and Austins food stores around Green Bay to carry – and didn’t know what to expect. I barely remember her soy-Worcestershire marinade, but I vividly recall how it transformed that pink slab of raw swine meat into a bundle of juicy awesomeness. Looking back, I’m sure she cooked it a bit longer than it should have been (everyone still mistrusted pork in those days, fearing trichinosis would pop out of every forkful if the meat wasn’t dried out to near shoe leather at best), but it was obviously good enough to make an impression on me. Better yet, it changed my opinion about pork. Finally, it had a future in my stomach. There was something other than dry chops and roasts!
Fast forward a few years … my parents still dried out their Other White Meat until my dad and I came to the mutual conclusion that a touch of pink in the middle (cook pork to 140°F and let rest for 5 minutes, ideally) is the best method. This, mind you, arose while I was in college. By that time, I was marinating and roasting killer pork tenderloin with the best of them. Soy, ginger, Montreal steak spice, maple, chipotle, apple cider … you name it, I tried it. I even cooked pork tenderloins for Canadian Thanksgiving when my mom visited me at McGill in my third year (since the two of us couldn’t possibly have managed turkey!) and when my boyfriend’s mom came over to my apartment for a little “dinner party” in our final year. Ah, those were the days of innocence…. Ah-hem! Anyway, needless to say pork had become a staple in my repertoire and I was glad for it. Ever since those college days of my first explorations with the stuff, I’ve most enjoyed coming up with new recipes for pork tenderloin.
This particular recipe is a conglomeration of many recipes I found during web searches. I wanted to try combining pork with apples and either leeks or onions, since that’s such a classic combination. Now, usually I don’t condone mixing fruit with meat, but I’m coming
around to the dark side slowly but surely. I figure if people have been eating apples and pork together for centuries, surely I will enjoy it too, right? And so, I did what I do best: I get the gist of a sort of recipe in my head, with approximate amounts, temperatures, and cooking times, then I get to work! Always an art, never a science (strange, coming from a scientist … well, engineer).
This recipe was fairly straightforward until I took it all out of the oven and removed the pork to let it rest. I started reducing the apple and leek sauce, which was still quite liquidy at this point, but tasted it for seasoning. It was definitely missing a “punch”, so I added the bit of vinegar (apple cider vinegar would be ideal here, but I’m out at the moment). After a second tasting, I added a dash of salt but was worried the vinegar was the wrong move; I’m not a fan of vinegar, but most recipes I’d found had a splash added, sometimes reduced to a syrup, so I gave it a shot. After hemming and hawing, I poured in a glug of maple syrup – voila! Success – after letting these two additions cook down for a few more minutes and marry with the rest of the sauce. The maple syrup’s sweetness balanced the vinegar’s tang and created a complex set of flavors that played a ping-pong match on my tongue. Delicious! I highly recommend you make this dinner; it’s quick enough to suit a weeknight timeframe, but it’s just the sort of meal to tickle your tastebuds on a cool, fall day.
Roasted pork tenderloin with apples and leeks
- 1 pork tenderloin, trimmed and salted/peppered
- 1 leek, cut into 1″ lengths
- 2 apples (I used one Pink Lady and 1 Red Delicious; both were firm enough), sliced no more than 1/4″ thick
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup apple juice or apple cider (organic if possible, or at least low-sugar)
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp celery salt
- 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
- 1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a dutch oven, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the leek for three minutes, covered, making sure to salt the mixture lightly. Remove the leek from the pot, add the other 1/2 tablespoon of the oil, and increase the heat to medium-high. When the pot has heated, place the tenderloin inside and brown for 2
minutes. Flip it over and brown the opposite side for 1-2 minutes. Flip the pork over 90° and brown another side for 1 minute, then flip it over another 180° and brown the last side for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of the apple juice to deglaze the bottom of the pan; use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned matter into the liquid. Add the celery salt, five spice powder, salt, and pepper, stirring. Nestle half of the leeks and apples around each side of the pork, then pour in the remaining apple juice and the stock. Make sure everything is covered about 2/3 up with liquid; if not, add more stock or juice. Cover and place in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the pork reads 140°F.
Transfer the pork to a plate. Tent with aluminum foil and let sit for at least 5 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, return the pot with the apple and leek mixture to the stove
on medium-high to high heat. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce the liquid, but not to the point where it becomes syrupy (because it won’t get to this point before turning into a mushy sludge). Stir gently during this time, but try not to break apart the apple slices. Add the maple syrup, stir, and taste; adjust seasoning if necessary. Cook for 1 minute longer. Slice the pork tenderloin into 1/4″-1/2″ slices and top with the apple-leek sauce.