PUBLISHED: 1:58 PM on Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Beauty is in the taste of pork tenderloin

Dan Macdonald

Pork tenderloin is the swan of the meat world.

It's a pretty ugly cut of meat when it comes out of the plastic wrap. The two separate slabs are a bit wet and sort of slimy.

But once it is seasoned and cooked, it makes for a beautiful meal.

Pork tenderloin is as versatile as chicken but has the heft and texture of beef. For about $10, there's enough to serve four adults.

And, if you're cooking for just two, half of the meat can be tucked into a plastic freezer bag and saved for another day.

Before I tell how I like to prepare pork tenderloin, let's get some basics from "The Complete Meat Cookbook" by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly (Houghton Mifflin, $35).

Not to get too technical, but don't confuse pork tenderloin with pork loin. Tenderloin is boneless and weighs from 3/4 to 1-1/2 pounds. A whole loin has bones and weighs from 5 to 7 pounds.

The tenderloin is smaller and has less fat than most pork cuts (about the same fat as a boneless chicken breast). It can dry out easily; be careful not to overcook.

Also avoid the temptation to marinate. The meat becomes mushy if it is left in too long, especially when the marinade has a citrus or vinegar base.

If you use a marinade, leave the meat in it no longer than an hour at room temperature.

The best way to work with tenderloin is to use rubs. That's how I like to prepare it. Grocery stores have pre-seasoned pork tenderloins, but stay away from them.

They're usually very salty, and besides, this dish is easy to prepare from scratch.

Start with the rub, which can be as simple as finely chopped rosemary, sage and thyme with some salt and pepper.

If you'd like some heat, add a few dashes of cayenne to the mixture. Some commercial rubs will work just as well.

I use an oven-safe skillet so I only have one dish for the entree.

Once you season the tenderloin, set the oven to 350 degrees and turn the top burner to medium-high. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet on top of the stove. Once the oil is hot, place the tenderloin in the skillet and brown it on all sides.

Remove it from the skillet and add a cup or so of wine (I prefer Chardonnay, but a red works just as well). Let that cook for a minute, then return the tenderloin to the skillet and place it in the oven.

Tenderloin is a great weekday meal because it doesn't take long to cook - maybe 10 to 15 minutes in the oven.

At the 7-minute mark, I like to check it for temperature and turn the meat over to make sure the wine keeps the exposed top portion moist, too.

When the meat reaches 150 degrees (use that handy instant-read thermometer I keep telling you to buy), remove the skillet from the oven.

Place the meat on a plate to rest before cutting.

The skillet handle will stay hot, so be careful and work with an oven mitt and tongs for this next part.

Place the skillet on the stovetop on a medium-high burner. Add more wine if needed, and scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen meat bits.

Add about a cup of chicken broth. Let that reduce to about half and then add 1/4 cup butter or cream to finish the sauce.

Instead of using wine, you can pour about a half-bottle of store- bought honey-teriyaki marinade or lemon pepper marinade in the skillet and let the tenderloin cook in that when in the oven.

You can use the marinade as a ready-made sauce and pour it over the meat.

Macdonald is a food writer for Morris Communications in Jacksonville, Fla.