Last week Richard asked me if I wanted to invite his boss for a Saturday dinner. Harold, my husband’s 88-year old friend, was on his own for a few days while his wife went out of town for a granddaughter’s high school graduation. As much as I love to cook and to eat, I get a little nervous when we have guests for whom I’ve never cooked. When you cook often for people, you get to know their likes and dislikes, if you can get away with a casserole, what allergies they have, etc. But I couldn’t refuse an opportunity to host a dinner for Harold, despite my fears. And because I’ve had my eye on these beautiful pork tenderloins in the meat counter for months, I decided the dish would be quick, tender, and succulent – really, a great meal for a special friend, cooked with apples, onions, garlic and rosemary. I mean, who doesn’t like pork – right? So off to the market I went, very happy to have an excuse to pick up a couple of tenderloins, the filet of pork. i was confident I’d scored a hit when he reached for his third piece of meat and topped it off with more onion sauce. We even had enough to send him home with some leftovers, and enough for Richard and I to gnaw on for a late night snack. Hooray!!
The package of pork tenderloins I bought come in packages of two, and each package has two tenderloins. The package is approximately five pounds, so each tenderloin weighs about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds. I prepared two tenderloins. There was plenty for the three of us, some for Harold to take home, and enough for us for Sunday dinner. So, be sure to keep that in mind as you shop for meat.
Also, I’ve stopped browning meat in butter or oil. I usually just spray meat with cooking spray, season it, and brown in a hot skillet. (I actually learned this technique from one of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” episodes where he was preparing steaks to be grilled. I was inspired and now use it for almost every meat I cook.)
Here we go:
Take the tenderloins of of their packaging and allow them to come to room temperature. I put mine on a paper towel lined baking sheet to make sure they were dry enough for the cooking spray. After about 30 minutes or so, I rolled the meat around between the towels, and removed the paper, and returned the meat to the baking sheet. I sprayed the tenderloins, and sprinkled them with garlic pepper (not garlic salt), kosher salt, and dried rosemary. Once seasoned, allowed to sit for 5 minutes, Brown the tenderloins on all sides in a skillet over a medium-hot skillet. Remove the tenderloins to a clean baking sheet, and tent with aluminum foil to keep them warm. Please Note: The tenderloins are still pretty raw at this point, so don’t eat them yet. We’ll need to cook them longer, but that comes later.
To the hot skillet now coated with beautiful brown bits of garlicky, peppery, porky goodness, add 1 to 2 thinly sliced medium onions. Season with a few sprinkles of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. We’re going to caramelize them. Turn down the heat a wee bit, so the onions don’t burn. This process may take 15 minutes or so. Be patient – it’s worth the wait! Use a spatula or flat wooden scraper to scrap off the delicious brown bits from the bottom of the pan. The onions will give off enough of their own moisture and they will soften and begin to caramelize, Stir the onions around a while, just to make sure they don’t stick.
Add the chopped garlic to the onions. Again stir. Don’t let the garlic get brown. Stir until you can see little bits of chopped garlic incorporated into the onions. You should be able to smell the garlic at this point, too.
Sorry I did not take pictures of the next step in the process, but you can see from the photo at the very top as well as from the description that apples will play in important role to the finished dish. So, take 2-3 medium-sized apples, core them, and cut the apples into eight pieces. No need to peel them – the peel adds another layer of color, texture and flavor, and will help to keep your apples in tact. I used my favorite apple, golden delicious, because they looked so lovely in the market. Some folks may prefer to use Granny Smith’s, but you know, I think Granny apples are a rather overrated. I don’t find they have much flavor. But please feel free to use whatever apple you love that will keep its shape during cooking.
Now that you have your apples ready, and the onions are nice and caramelized, and you can smell a hint of garlic in the air, it’s time to add your sliced apples. Just nuzzle them down in between the onions, around the sides of the pan and through the center. Mix together 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of apple juice or cider, whatever you have on hand. Pour 1/2 of the stock/juice mixture along the side of the pan. (If your stove is like mine – uneven – the mixture will gravitate through the pan and settle at the back.) The liquid mixture will begin to bubble. Let it reduce a minute or so, Place the previously browned tenderloins on top of the onions and apples. Pour the remainder of the stock/juice mix along the side of the pan. Give it a little jiggle, just to make sure everyone is swimming and happy. Put a lid on top of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let it cook away for about 10-12 minutes. Your pan should be very gently simmering, and vaporizing sweet apple juice to bring the tenderloins to temperature.
When the 10-12 minutes is up, use a slotted spoon to gently move the apples to your serving plate. With any luck at all, the apples will have absorbed some of the liquid and some apple parts will be a rich brown color.
Turn the tenderloins over, at this point, replaced the lid, and allowed them to continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan on to a clean baking sheet, and tent with foil to keep warm until ready to serve. Please make sure the tenderloins have come up to temperature, approximately 165 degrees. If they’re barely pink in the middle and a bit juicy, that’s OK. That’s what you want.
Remove the lid from the skillet, increase the heat a bit, add another 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Make a slurry of 1 tablespoon flour with 2 tablespoons chicken stock. I shake this mixture in a baby food jar to make sure there are no lumps, and add it to the onions in the skillet, stirring as I pour to fully incorporate. Mix it around until the sauce begins to thicken, Turn down the heat to medium-low. It’s OK if the sauce sits for a wee bit. If it becomes too thick, all you have to do is add a little more chicken stock or apple juice. You just want it hot when you ladle it over the pork.
Take the tenderloins, slice them into 1″ portions, and place them on the serving plate. Pour some of the pan juices and onions over the pork. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of onion sauce left in the pan. Pour that into a gravy boat or sauce pot for the table. Your guests can spoon extra over their serving of pork tenderloin.
The onion sauce is mildly sweet, with a hint of savory from the garlic and rosemary. If you’d prefer the dish less sweet, you could omit the apple juice and use all chicken stock.
Harold, Richard and I enjoyed our conversation as much as we did the dinner – which is the whole point – right? I served homemade dinner rolls alongside real butter, and a leafy green salad with tomatoes, fresh spring onions, and homemade 1000 Island dressing.
I know this may seem like a lot of steps, but it’s really not, if you’re familiar at all with cooking. But this is a special recipe I keep in my quiver for just such occasions. I sure hope it’s a hit in your home, too!