Sometimes it’s a happy kitchen accident that yields the most delicious results. How else can we explain the existence of centuries-old staples like vinegar, or wine, or yogurt? Somebody left some goat milk in the cask too long and presto, fermented deliciousness. That dried-out piece of meat you found in the back of the hut didn’t kill people after they snacked on it? Fantastic! Let’s try that again!
And sometimes it’s in a confluence of good luck and confidence, those nights when we ditch formal recipes for on-the-fly improvisation that we end up with a stellar supper. Sometimes winging it just tastes better, and this low-effort pork recipe, a grilled tenderloin glazed with a savory Asian-ish marinade, totally worked from the get-go. (If I sound like I’m boasting, I am. It was tasty! I don’t often cook with Asian ingredients at home and was pleased as punch that it worked so well.) For the marinade, I aimed for a balance among savory, spicy, sweet and tart flavors, but depending on the nuoc cham you find and your preferences, you can easily adjust it to your palate. (Just taste-test before adding the raw meat, of course.) After about twenty minutes on the barbecue, the pork will grill up tender and juicy, with a flavor-packed sear on the outside. Let it rest and then serve with garlicky sautéed spinach and a dry Gewürztraminer, if you like.
Oh, and consider this post a two-parter: on Wednesday, I’ll share how I fixed up the leftovers. We are in for a treat, friends.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Asian-style Marinade
serves 2-4 for dinner (with generous leftovers for two the following day)
- 5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/4 tsp zest and juice of one lime
- 1 1/4 tsp Chinese five spice powder
- 1/4 C fish sauce
- 1/2 C + 1 Tbsp sweet chili dipping sauce (nuoc cham)
- 1/4 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed of silverskin and excess fat
Whisk the first seven ingredients in a casserole dish large enough to snugly accommodate the pork. Refrigerate and marinate several hours, turning occasionally, or overnight. Bring to room temperature for one hour. Preheat a grill for 15 minutes on high heat; turn down to indirect medium heat. Discard the marinade and grill the pork, covered, about 10-15 minutes per side until it reaches an internal temperature of 140-145 degrees, for meat with a hint of blush pink in the center. (Pull off at 155 for more well-done meat.) Let the meat rest for 10 minutes, loosely tented with foil. Carve and serve.
Note: As I mentioned in a post on herb-crusted chops, pork is best when it’s not overcooked, with a rosy tinge in the center. According to food scientist Harold McGee, any little nasties that might cause trichinosis infection are killed off at 137 degrees, though trichinella is largely absent from today’s pork supply anyway (less than 10 cases per year, and mostly from game). Buy good-quality, humanely-raised pork: you get what you pay for.