Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Polenta

This was a spectacular meal, and any time you can pull off a spectacular meal with items you have in the pantry already is cause for celebration. Pork tenderloin often goes on sale at my local market, so I picked this one up for only a few dollars. The jar of deli jalapenos has been patiently waiting in the fridge for something more exciting than sandwiches, and I made the polenta with ordinary corn meal. Not the most inspired preparation, but frugal, and made more interesting with chicken stock and sharp cheddar cheese. The onion puree added a delicious layer of sweet to a spicy, smoky, and salty dish.

Pork Tenderloin
(Click for printable recipe.)
1/3 c sliced tamed jalapeno peppers (I had Mezzetta in the fridge)
1/4 cup of the jalapeno brine
water to taste (consider the heat tolerance of your guests)
bacon fat
pork tenderloin, silver skin removed

1. Blend the peppers, brine, and water (if desired) in a blender, mini food processor, with a stick blender, your choice. This is a marinade; the method is not critical. Pack the mixture and the tenderloin in a large zip top bag and refrigerate. The brine includes vinegar, so don't go too long as the meat will start to disintegrate. This particular preparation soaked for about 24 hours, but as few as 4 will give you some chile flavor.

2. Heat your grill, and remove the tenderloin from the marinade. Wipe off any bits of pepper or seeds and dry. You could have added salt to the marinade to inject the middle of the meat with more flavor, but where the tenderloin is such a skinny piece of meat, I'm happy to just salt before I grill.

3. Melt your bacon fat if needed. As to bacon fat, we're talking fat rendered from the last time you cooked bacon, and saved in a jar in the fridge. This is fantastic if you ever need just a bit of smokiness; you can use to cook onions in or mix just a bit into hamburger patties.

4. When your grill is hot, cover the tenderloin with fat and put on the grill. Be prepared with a spray bottle for flareups. Turn as each side browns and re-coat with bacon fat. The tenderloin is a very lean cut, and you're cooking it over the grill, so I don't worry one bit about drenching it in bacon grease.

5. Follow your favorite cookbook for final cooking temperature. I aimed for 145 degrees. Tent with foil for 10 minutes before slicing.

(Click for printable recipe.)
4-5 c chicken stock
1 T butter
1 c cornmeal

1/2 cup milk or half-n-half as needed
1 c grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Polenta is a very versatile and very personal dish. I chose it for this dish because it adds a quiet tamale suggestion to the meal, and would be cooling if the chile marinade had turned out too spicy.

1. Boil three cups of stock with your butter.
2. Slowly shake in the cornmeal and whisk to work out lumps.
3. Cook on medium-low for 5-10 minutes, whisking often and checking to see that it doesn't burn.
4. If the mixture seems too thick, add more hot chicken stock. I like mine to stay creamy for a while after cooking, so I keep it thinned to a pourable consistency. In this particular preparation, it took almost five cups of stock.
5. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes.
6. Add milk or half-n-half and cheese, stir to combine and melt.
7. Salt and pepper to taste.

Walla Walla Onion Puree
(Click for printable recipe.)
1 large walla walla or other sweet onion
olive oil
1 c chicken stock
sugar to taste

1. Dice onion
2. Saute in olive oil, lightly salted, until the onion is brown and caramelized. If your onions aren't sweet enough, you can add a dash of white or brown sugar to assist with the caramelization. Remember, the polenta will be salty, the pork will be spicy and smoky. What better flavor addition than sweet?
3. Add chicken stock, puree with immersion blender (I find this step works best when the mixture is added to a coffee mug). Add any accumulated juices from your pork's resting place.

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