Our last night in Florida, my mom, having no real plans for dinner, thawed a pork tenderloin she’d been wanting but was in a quandary how to cook it. I find pork tenderloin a little on the ho-hum side, but a marinade 0f some kind would help it considerably.
Marinades can be a contentious subject, especially when you include something acidic, vinegar or citrus juice. Marinades do not tenderize meat. I almost never include acid in a marinade because it “cooks” the exterior of the meat (in a good way if you’re making the ceviche below). If I want something acidic with the meat, I add it just before or during the cooking. Nor do marinades penetrate the meat, not to any real effect. If I want flavors to penetrate meat I use salt or a brine to get them in.
What is the purpose of a marinade? Flavor! Marinades flavor the exterior of the meat, clinging to it, cooking with it. So how to flavor this pork tenderloin? I thought back to one by Francis Mallman and Peter Kaminsky, from their book Seven Fires, which Peter guest posted here last year that I admired. But we had not a single orange.
We did however have plenty of lemons, and what I liked best about their pork recipe was the cooking of the zest, the “orange confit.” I used this idea to create a marinade for the pork, one with lots of aromats that would cook with the pork on the grill. I cut the zest off with a knife, not a zester; it needed to be thick to hold up to the cooking. The final last step in my strategizing was to make the most use of a marinade. Since marinades only flavor the surface, I doubled the surface area of the tenderloin by butterflying it. I cooked strips of zest in olive oil and wine with shallot and garlic, pepper and coriander, and a little brown sugar, let it cool, covered the meat with it and let it sit for a half hour, long enough for the marinade to get its hooks into the meat.
When we grilled it, the lemon and garlic and shallot took on a sweet char, not too much because the pork, flattened, cooked so quickly. This is an enormously satisfying way to cook a pork tenderloin.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Lemon Zest-Thyme Marinade
1 pork tenderloin
salt to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
zest from two lemons, pith removed, cut in thin strips
3 cloves garlic, smashed with a knife
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon coarsely cracked coriander
2 tablespoons brown sugar
a bunch of fresh thyme
1/4 cup white wine
Slice the fat end of the tenderloin down the center about three quarters of its length so that you can flatten it out into a uniformly thick piece (I also gave it several whacks with a heavy pan to even it out. Season the pork with salt with plenty of kosher or sea salt.
In a small pan combine the oil, zest, garlic, shallot, pepper, coriander, brown sugar, and 7 or 8 stems of thyme and cook it over medium high heat until the garlic and shallots are bubbling. Add the wine, bring the oil back up to heat for a few minutes, then remove the pan from the heat (it should cook for about 10 minutes in all) and allow it to cool till it’s not hot to the touch.
Pour it over the pork, add several more stems of fresh thyme, and let it marinate a half hour (or for up to three days, refrigerated, if you’re making this ahead).
Prepare a hot grill and cook the pork, removing the thyme stems, but keep as much of the aromats as will adhere to the pork, to medium rare.
One tenderloin should serve 4 to 5 people.