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
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.
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.