Asian infusion: Marinating blends multiple influences in Chinese Pork Tenderloin

by Terry B on January 20, 2010

Slow marinating with hoisin sauce, soy sauce, Chinese five-spice powder, fresh ginger and other pan-Asian ingredients infuses quick-cooking Chinese Pork Tenderloin with big, complex flavor. Recipe below.


Guitarists sometimes refer to capos as cheaters. By strapping a capo onto the guitar’s neck in various positions, you can change the key you’re playing in without having to transpose the music.

To me, marinating is kind of a cheater technique. And I mean that in a good way. A very simple process—mixing some stuff together and letting it sit for a while—can transpose a simply prepared meal into something that tastes more impressive than it rightfully should.

Marinating infuses meats [and seafood and even vegetables] with flavors limited only by your imagination, and just about every cuisine and culture has discovered some version of the technique. In an article on marinades in the New York Times, food historian Charles Perry says that, ”In Western cooking, they date back probably to the Renaissance, when people marinated meats and seafood in vinegar and spices, to both preserve and flavor the food.” And in Asia, Koreans have been marinating since the 1500s.

Acids, sugars, oils and salts in marinades all act on meats in different ways. Many marinades contain some of each for that reason. Flavorings can include everything from herbs and spices to wine, fruit juices and aromatics such as garlic, onions, ginger and lemongrass

Besides ingredients, the other variable of the marinating process is time. Seafood should marinate for the briefest time, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. In fact, overmarinating fish in acidic mixes, particularly citrus juices, can actually cook it [which is exactly how ceviche is “cooked”]. Chicken typically marinates for a couple/few hours, but can sometimes go up to overnight. Dense meats like pork and beef can marinate anywhere from several hours to 24 hours and even longer.

Despite what some think, marinades don’t infuse entire large pieces of meat—roasts, for instance—they mainly flavor the surfaces they touch and perhaps a little below that. So you get the most bang for your marinade buck with smaller chunks or slices of meat. In the case of pork tenderloin, though, when it’s sliced into medallions for serving, each bite is likely to include part of the surface the marinade came in contact with.

Pork tenderloin is a wonderfully versatile cut of meat, perfect for marinating. It’s lean, flavorful and tender, and it cooks quickly. [Be careful you don’t overcook pork tenderloin—that will dry it out. As long as it reaches the desired temperature of 155 – 160ºF, if it’s a little pink inside, that’s okay.]

Chinese Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4 to 6

1 pork tenderloin, 1-1/2 to 2 pounds

For marinade:
2/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar [preferably unseasoned]
1 tablespoon sherry
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all marinade ingredients in a medium bowl, whisking to thoroughly blend. Pork tenderloins are actually long, tapering pieces of meat. When you buy them, they are typically sold two to a package, creating a more uniformly shaped cylinder. Tie them together in four places with kitchen string to maintain this shape for even roasting.

Place the tenderloin in a gallon-sized zippered plastic storage bag. Pour the marinade over, seal the bag and turn it to work the marinade over the tenderloin. Refrigerate and let the meat marinate for at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.

Roast the tenderloin. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. While the oven is preheating, remove the tenderloin from the fridge to let it warm up. Line a roasting pan with foil and place a roasting rack in it. Remove the tenderloin from the bag, reserving the marinade, and place it on the rack. Roast the tenderloin in the middle of the oven, until an instant read thermometer registers 155 – 160ºF when inserted into the middle of the tenderloin, about 25 to 35 minutes [see Kitchen Notes]. Turn once during the roasting and baste occasionally with the reserved marinade.

Meanwhile, strain marinade through a wire mesh strainer into a sauce pan, pressing with the back of a wooden spoon to get as much liquid as possible. Add 1/2 cup of water to the marinade. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until it has reduced slightly and will coat the back of a wooden spoon. Because of the high sugar content of the hoisin sauce, it will thicken pretty quickly. Keep a close eye on it.

When the tenderloin is completely cooked, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest for 5 minutes. Slice it into 1/4-inch [or so] medallions. The tenderloin sections will almost certainly separate as you slice it. That’s fine. Arrange medallions on individual plates and spoon a little of the reduced marinade over them. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Time and temp. The former is only a guide; the latter is the real deal. Making this meal proved the value of our instant read thermometer. Our oven has been a little wonky of late, making the timing of baked and roasted foods vary all over the place. Don’t cook this or any other pork to death or you’ll dry it out [the exception is braising, of course, in which you cook it in liquid, so it can’t dry out]. You want to cook it until it’s 155 – 160ºF in the center.

Looking for a great side for this dish? Try the Asian Stir Fried Noodles with Cashews shown in the photo above.


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane Sauer January 20, 2010 at 1:57 am

These 2 recipes sound so fabulous…can’t wait for company so I have a chance to show off.

Alta January 20, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Yum. I love pork tenderloin, and this marinade sounds so flavorful. I can imagine this served with a side of simply sauteed bok choy. Mmmm…

Nicole, RD January 20, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I’ve been on the prowl for more ways to use hoisin sauce in my cooking, thanks for the great marinade! Love the blog!

Terry B January 20, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Thanks, Jane!

Alta—Funny you should mention bok choy. One of the things I considered as a side was baby bok choy. Instead, I went with steamed broccoli and stir fried noodles with cashews. Another great side would be Marion’s poison gas potatoes, with Sriracha sauce.

Thanks, Nicole! If you’re looking for more ways to use hoisin sauce, you should try my oven-braised Asian short ribs.

Dani H January 20, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Mmmmm…. scrumptious! I love hoisin sauce, too. I’m glad to hear you recommend not overcooking. Pork today does not need to be cooked as long as when we were kids to be safe. I’m off to read your other post.

Laura January 21, 2010 at 2:33 am

As always Terry, this looks delicious. For some reason I’d never thought about the different between marinating large and small cuts of meat, I don’t know how that’s escaped me all of these years! I guess that explains why I love pork tenderloin so much. I always just rub it with a mixture of mustard and curry powder but this sounds so much better.

Terry B January 21, 2010 at 3:44 am

Dani—You’re right about pork and not needing to overcook it these days. According to the New York Times, there are only about 40 cases of trichinosis each year in the U.S. And, according to Wikipedia, those are mostly the result of eating undercooked game, bear meat or home-reared pigs.

I don’t know, Laura. Your mustard and curry powder rub sounds pretty delicious too. That’s another wonderful thing about pork tenderloin—it is so darned versatile.

altadenahiker January 21, 2010 at 5:17 am

Well done, T &M. Or better yet, medium rare? My mother, for some reason, had a horror of pork with any pink. Thought it would kill us on the spot. Was that some carry-over from the old country?

Terry B January 21, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Altadenahiker—Actually, it had more to do with US pork production practices back in the day that have been changed [yes, they were even worse back then]. But according to the CDC, “infection is now relatively rare. During 1997-2001, an average of 12 cases per year were reported… Cases are less commonly associated with pork products and more often associated with eating raw or undercooked wild game meats.” Another source I read said that in the unlikely event pork is infected with the parasite causing trichinosis, said parasite can’t survive past 140ºF, so cooking pork to 155 – 160º is plenty safe. So yes, a little pink is just fine. Interestingly [appallingly?], one source for trichinosis cases turned out to be cougar jerky. Who even thinks that sounds like a good thing to eat?

Toni January 23, 2010 at 3:22 pm

My late husband used to throw the chicken in some marinade before we took off on a car camping trip. We had the BEST food ever on those camping trips! In fact, I didn’t think I liked camping until I went with him. He was a rock star chef over a small cook stove.

This looks like a terrific dish, Terry. I’ve got a pork tenderloin in the freezer and all the other ingredients in my house as well. Oh, yum!!

[email protected] January 23, 2010 at 8:34 pm

This sauce looks great… cooked medium it is succulent and delicious..
can’t wait to try!

Terry B January 23, 2010 at 9:12 pm

What wonderful memories, Toni! I have to admit, we don’t camp often enough for me to get into doing much with the cooking. But now you’ve got me wanting to go camping—not in January in the Midwest, of course.

Thanks, Deana! And thanks for commenting here so I could discover your fascinating blog—what a wonderful combination of history and food.

fourfoodies January 26, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I love your site and I love this pork recipe. Thank you for your time and creativity.

Marc January 30, 2010 at 12:38 am

This was incredibly flavorful, and I got to use my new meat thermometer. Thanks!

Terry B January 30, 2010 at 4:03 am

Thanks, fourfoodies!

Marc—They’re great tools, aren’t they? It’s easy to slice into a pork chop or chicken breast to see if it’s cooked through, but with roasts and whole chickens and such, a meat thermometer lets you know you’ve cooked it enough without performing major surgery.

Chef Dad January 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm

This is a great addition to the arsenal. I often do a “simple Asian” night where I stir fry some veggies and then some thinly sliced pork tenderloin. Dipping sauces are the thing there. But, I’ve been wanting to find a turn on that idea. This might even be tonight’s dinner. Also, Terry, your involvement with the community around your blog is exemplary for the rest of us. Not sure I read another blog that has this much blogger interaction with the comments.

Terry B January 30, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Awww, thanks, Chef Dad! I really have found the food blogging community to be a warm, welcoming one. I’m glad to be part of it.

Saint March 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Pork Tenderloin is one of those classic meals that in the end really make me wonder why some people don’t like pork. Granted peoples taste in food varies from person to person, but still, it’s utterly delicious.

The only thing i would probably do differently with this recipe is utilize a cast iron skillet to create a nice solid sear around the edges and implement sesame seeds to the finished product.

Terry B March 11, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Thanks, Saint! As you can tell by my many meaty posts, I’m a major carnivore. And I especially am a fan of pork—it’s just so versatile. Sesame seeds sound like a nice finishing touch indeed. Regarding the cast iron skillet, I must admit I’m one of the few semi-serious cooks who has just never fallen in love with cast iron, even though I’ve tried numerous times.

Mike June 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I do love the hoisin sauce and the ginger. The recipe sounds delightful. Can’t wait to try. I would add that if you’re in a time crunch, you can speed marination times using pressure infusion marination technique described at All you need is a plastic bottle and a pressure source. You cannot get a whole pork loin through the mouth of a 3-liter bottle. But you could strip it. Hmmm???

ButterYum August 22, 2010 at 12:14 am

Oh Wow – This looks like a fabulous dish!


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