In the test kitchen, I'm known as our in-house meat connoisseur, and with good reason: I love finding new ways to bring out the flavors of different cuts of meat. For this dish, I stepped into the kitchen in the hopes of discovering a foolproof pork tenderloin recipe that you'll be able to add to your cooking repertoire. Keep reading to see exactly how I made this happen—and how you can, too.
Bump Up Pork Tenderloin’s Mild Flavor with Our Knockout Stuffing
Pork tenderloin—one of America’s favorite cuts of pork—is supremely tender and fast-cooking. While I appreciate those attributes, this cut isn’t exactly a flavor powerhouse. The test kitchen has addressed this lack of flavor by creating some great recipes that dress up pork tenderloin with potent crumb crusts, intense spice rubs, or fancy sauces or glazes. But, tasty as they may be, all those solutions are superficial. For maximum impact, I decided to pack the inside of the meat with a bold stuffing.
But before I did, I had two big questions to answer: How, exactly, would I stuff the meat? And what would I stuff it with? For inspiration, I dug up six wildly diverse recipes for stuffed pork tenderloin and prepared them in the test kitchen. The techniques for stuffing entailed everything from tying two tenderloins together with filling between them to cutting a pocket in the meat to using the handle of a wooden spoon to bore a hole down the length of the tenderloin.
Pork Tenderloin Roulade with Bacon, Apple, and Gruyère"Made this tonight. Fantastic! We loved the flavor combination. Will definitely make again." —Jill P., Cook's Country Member
I found that butterflying held the stuffing in place most reliably. “Butterflying” means slicing the tenderloin almost in half down its length so you can open it up like a book. By doing this, I could lay stuffing on the pork and roll it up like a jelly roll. I found that pounding the butterflied meat to an even thickness made for tidier rolling and more even cooking; it also created a larger surface area that held more stuffing. Trussing the stuffed tenderloins with kitchen twine ensured that the stuffing stayed secure inside the pork.
Now it was time to nail down the stuffing itself. In my initial test recipes, stuffing that used bread or bread crumbs absorbed pork juices and turned gummy. Those based on herb pastes (basically riffs on pesto) tasted good but didn’t feel substantial enough to warrant the work. I wanted a knockout stuffing.
Our favorite tenderloin from the initial recipes was stuffed with a simple mix of apple and bacon. For having only two ingredients, it offered a big payoff, hitting both salty and sweet notes. But it lacked depth and cohesion. Softening the chopped apple in bacon fat (left behind after crisping the bacon) added dimension, and sautéing a minced shallot and some fresh thyme added a steady hum of background flavor. As for a binder, grated Gruyère cheese proved perfect; the nutty cheese melted in the oven and united the bacon and apple into a cohesive filling.
For a final test, I butterflied and pounded two tenderloins, loaded on the tasty stuffing, rolled them up and tied them, and then seared the tenderloins in a hot skillet before finishing them in a 350-degree oven. Slicing through their gorgeously browned crusts revealed the soft, cheesy, extremely flavorful stuffing. It smelled amazing—and tasted even better. Finally, pork tenderloin that packed a wallop of intense meaty, savory flavor.
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If you're looking for more recipe development stories, check out our February/March 2019 issue online.