A pork loin is a great cut of meat that is suitable for many uses. It does well on the grill and roasts just as well in the oven. It can be served sliced thin on a sandwich or served whole as we commonly do with a roast.
The whole loin includes the tenderloin, but is seldom sold as one piece. The pork loin is the long muscle that runs along the spine and the tenderloin is on the end of the loin and is thinner. It is the most tender, because it is a muscle used for posture and not locomotion.
Pork is not graded like beef is by the USDA. Your best option is to select the best looking tenderloin or loin you can find at your butcher shop. It should be pink and well marbled. But even the best pork will be ruined if you overcook it. Gone are the days when pork had to be cooked to the point of being tough and tasteless. Trichinosis is mostly a thing of the past with only about 10 reported cases in the United States annually. The USDA now recommends an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
There are several options for buying a pork loin or tenderloin. You no longer have to buy the entire loin. Many grocery stores are selling small, 6- to 8-inch pieces of pork loin that are quite affordable. The tenderloin is commonly found pre-marinated, but I do not recommend it. Buy a plain tenderloin and season it or marinade it to your liking. This will also avoid the high salt content some marinades have.
Those from the Midwest will be familiar with a pork tenderloin sandwich; a rarity almost never found in the South, but an interesting cooking option to consider. This sandwich is a play on German schnitzel, but pork is substituted for veal. A thick slice of pork loin is pounded thin, dipped in an egg and milk wash and then coated with bread crumbs. It is deep fried and served on a hamburger bun along with sliced onions, dill pickles and mustard.
Remember that the tenderloin cooks much faster than the loin and that both are ruined by being overcooked.
GARLIC-STUFFED ROASTED LOIN WITH PASTA
1 package linguini
1 small pork loin (6-8 inches long)
8-10 garlic cloves
Fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried oregano
12 cherry tomatoes
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. With a sharp knife make small incisions, just the breadth of the garlic cloves and about 1-inch deep. Slip a garlic clove into each so that it is completely immersed. Rub a little olive oil over the loin and season with the black pepper and oregano.
Place on a sheet pan and put in the oven; cook for approximately 1 hour, check to see if it is fork tender, remove if ready or continue cooking until done, no more than 30 more minutes.
Cook the pasta to package directions, try timing it so that it is ready just when the pork is done.
When the pork is ready remove it from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle shred it with a fork.
Chop the tomatoes in half and toss the pork and tomatoes, along with1/4 cup of olive oil with the pasta.
Grate on a fair amount of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve at once.
Pair this dish with a red Zinfandel as the garlic needs a big wine to stand up to.
GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN
1 pork tenderloin
2-4 sprigs rosemary
6-8 cloves chopped garlic
2 fresh bay leaves
Juice of 2 limes
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons of dried oregano
As is always the case meat is best cooked over a wood fire, but a hardwood charcoal is a good substitute. Start your fire and make sure it is burning hot and evenly by the time the pork is ready to cook.
Combine the rosemary, chopped garlic, bay leaves, lime juice and 1 or 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper in a re-sealable bag, mix well and then add the tenderloin. Make sure the meat is well covered with the marinade and then refrigerate for several hours. Remove when ready and allow to come close to room temperature (never put something directly from the refrigerator on the grill), coat with olive oil and season with oregano. Grill 3- to 4-inches from the fire, turning often to insure it does not burn. It is recommended that pork have an internal temperature of 145 degrees, but remember it will continue to cook after you take it off the grill, so removing it at 130 degrees or 135 degrees would be a good idea. Your best bet is to learn to know how done something is by touch; meat very soft to the touch is rare, the firmer it gets the more well done it is.
This recipe has a nice Greek touch so serve it with feta cheese, a nice garden fresh salad and a bottle of big red wine like Shiraz or a red Zinfandel.
PORK TENDERLOIN PO-BOY
1 pork tenderloin cut into1/4-inch slices
3-4 cloves smashed garlic cloves
1-2 pinches fresh ground black pepper
1-2 pinches red pepper flakes
Olive oil as needed
Po-boy bread, 1 per person
1 package pre-cut coleslaw
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
Combine the coleslaw mix, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and celery seeds, mix well and refrigerate to keep cold. Add olive oil to a sauté pan, add the garlic and cook until the oil has become fragrant, remove and discard the garlic, but do not let it burn. Season the thin slices of pork with the peppers, and cook quickly in the hot oil, being careful not to overcook and make tough. Drain on a paper towel. Layer the cooked pork onto the po-boy bread and top with chilled coleslaw. A little Valentina hot sauce would make a nice spicy touch.