These days we often use pork tenderloin to create quick meals. This recipe takes time, but it creates a spectacularly tender, flavorful and beautifully presented entree. Make it during fresh fig season, and the slices of meat will resemble the insides of the baked fruit. Plus, it'll give you a chance to try out chef Michel Richard's plastic wrap "sous-vide" cooking technique.
- For the pork
- 1 large (20 ounces) pork tenderloin, trimmed of any silverskin and excess fat
- Fleur de sel
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- For the sweet spiced port sauce
- 1 orange
- 1/2 cup homemade chicken stock, reduced*
- 1/2 cup ruby or vintage port
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 1 whole star anise
- 2 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 small or 4 medium figs (may substitute 1 cup peeled apple or pear chunks, or 6 dried apricots*)
Season the pork with the fleur de sel.
In a skillet large enough to hold the tenderloin, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and the butter over medium-high heat. Place the pork in the skillet and use a pair of tongs to roll the meat back and forth occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until all the sides are richly browned. Transfer to a plate and season on all sides with pepper. While the meat is still warm, rub the honey and cinnamon all over the pork.
Roll the pork in plastic wrap: Slightly dampen the work surface to anchor the plastic wrap and lay out two overlapping pieces to form an 18-inch square. Lay the meat across the plastic wrap about 6 inches up from the bottom edge. Pull the edge of the plastic wrap closest to you up over the roll and lay it on the plastic on the far side, pressing it tightly against the meat. Using a ruler or the back of a chef's knife, press against the meat to further compact the meat, then slowly roll the meat up in the plastic wrap, pinching in the sides from time to time to compress the meat more. Twist both ends and tie with kitchen twine. Trim the ends of the plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
Fill a large stockpot with water, clip a thermometer to the inside of the pot and set over medium to medium-high heat, so that the water reaches no more than--0 degrees. (Using a large pot of water makes it easier to maintain the temperature of the water once the pork is added.) Place the pork, still wrapped in plastic, in the water and poach for 1 hour, carefully maintaining the temperature. It is important that the water remain between 135 and--0 degrees as the pork cooks. Keep a bowl of ice cubes next to the stove, and if the temperature climbs, add a few ice cubes to lower the temperature quickly. If the pork will not remain under the surface of the water, wedge a wooden spoon into the pot to keep it submerged.
After 1 hour, remove the pork from the water, unwrap it just enough to insert an instant-read thermometer into the meat at one end, reaching the center of the tenderloin. The temperature should be close to--0 degrees. If it is below--0 degrees, seal the re-wrapped tenderloin in a heavy-duty resealable plastic food storage bag and continue to poach it as necessary. When the meat is done, turn off the heat. The pork can be held in the warm water for up to 2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from half of the orange and place the zest in a small saucepan. Add the reduced chicken stock, port, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon stick, star anise and prunes to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel and segment the orange and set the segments aside for garnish.
Remove the star anise from the sauce and reserve for the garnish.
Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the sauce into a clean saucepan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it has reduced to about 1/2 cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and keep warm until ready to use.
While the sauce reduces, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Combine a pinch of fine sea salt and the ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut the figs in half from the stem end if they are small or into quarters if they are medium and sprinkle with the salt-cinnamon mixture. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Set aside.
Remove the pork from the plastic bag, if using. In a skillet large enough to hold the pork, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and use a pair of tongs to roll the meat back and forth occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes, or until richly browned. Transfer to a cutting board to rest for a few minutes before slicing.
Rewarm the sauce, if necessary, and whisk in the teaspoon of butter.
Cut the tenderloin into 1/2- to 3/4- inch-thick slices and place on a serving platter. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper to taste. Drizzle the sauce around the meat. Arrange the baked figs, orange segments, the reserved star anise and the rosemary sprig pieces around the meat. Serve any extra sauce on the side.
Adapted from "Happy in the Kitchen," by Michel Richard (Artisan, 2006).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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