Intro: Perfectly Simple Pork Tenderloin (Sous-Vide)
Pork Tenderloin, generally expensive, sometimes intimidating, and always easy to overcook using traditional methods. Cooking pork tenderloin (or any meat, really) is a lot easier if you take all of the guess work out of it. The Sous-Vide cooking method is just the ticket to cook proteins perfectly, EVERY. SINGLE.TIME. This guide is going to combine a technique called "Equilibrium Brining", (pioneered by the Modernist Cuisine movement, http://modernistcuisine.com/) with sous-vide. The resulting dish is so mouth wateringly succulent, you have to try it to believe it. The essence of pork literally explodes in your mouth with each bite of meat.
I love everything about pork. The smell, the look, the taste, the mouth-feel. I feel that the best way to prepare pork is by brining in salt. I don't like to hide the flavours of good pork behind flavours. I feel that a good cut of meat should be able to stand by itself, without having to be adulterated with exotic flavours. If you follow this guide, you will end up with a very flavorful, delicious entrée. I typically finish meats with a pan sauce, made with wine, bone stock, butter, acid and a sprig of thyme or other herb that is complementary. If you are looking for a pretentious pork preperation, please poke-around somewhere else.
I tend to cook by feel, so if you are looking for precise instructions, you may wish to look somewhere else. I am presenting a technique that I use to prepare pork. It can (and SHOULD!) be modified to suite your palate.
What is sous-vide?
Sous-Vide means under vacuum, in French. Sous-Vide cooking is cooking vacuum sealed foods in a precisely controlled water bath. The benefit of doing this, is that it avoids over-cooking and undercooking meats. It is forgiving enough that you can just plop it in the water bath, and walk away for several hours, and you return to perfectly cooked proteins with very little difficulty.
What is equilibrium brining?
Equilibrium brining is a precise way to brine meats so that they are seasoned equally throughout, but without curing them. Tradition brining involves very high concentrations of salt, resulting in a very salty exterior. Equilibrium brining involves weighing both the meat, and the water, and then making a 1-3% salt brine solution. The meat and brine is then rested in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
What you need
- A sharp knife (if you can't shave with it, it ain't sharp).
- Pork Tenderloin
- Some kind of sous-vide cooker.
- Basic kitchen ammenities.
Step 1: Brine It, Baby!
- Place your brine bucket on the scale, and tare it.
- Drop your tenderloins into the bucket.
- Cover the tenderloins with water.
- Weight the meat and water together. Make a 1.75% brine solution, based on the weight of both meat and water.
- Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
The combined mass of water and meat weights 1000g. If you want to make a 1.75% brine, multiply 1000g x 0.0175.
Answer: 17.5g salt must be added to make a 1.75%(by weight) brine.
Step 2: Clean Your Meat, and Portion It.
For the best eating experience, you will want to clean your tenderloin of excess fat, membranes and silverskin.
The easiest way to do this is by sliding a sharp (if you can't shave, it ain't sharp) knife under the membranes, angling the edge upwards away from the meat, and then sliding your knife towards the end. Since I don't have 3 hands, I wasn't able to take a picture of the process.
Once your tenderloin is cleaned, you can choose to leave it whole or portion it. I chose to portion it.
P.S My tenderloin is a bit freezer burnt, so the colour is kind of dull. Sad day indeed, but I hate wasting something that a creature died to make...so down the gullet it goes!
Step 3: To Sear or Not to Sear, That Is the Question.
There are two schools of thought regarding pre-searing sous-vide meats. Some people say you should do it before, others say you should do it after sous-vide cooking.
My experience, is that you should actually do both. Here is why.
Pre-searing meat starts the maillard reaction (chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars) that results in the delicious flavours and aroma of meat. You know you have the maillard reaction occurring when the meat starts to brown. Pre-searing meat also has the advantage of potentially killing pathogens living on the surface of your meat. I don't know about you, but I'd like to avoid eating live pathogens if possible.
I also find that pre-searing meat results in more delicious meaty flavours permeating the whole cut of meat, as opposed to just on the surface.
Some meats, like lamb shouldn't be pre-seared. For whatever reason, pre-searing lamb makes it taste very muttony, which I don't care for. Fish also shouldn't be preseared.
After cooking sous-vide, if your meat is pre-seared you can quickly refresh the crust on your meat by judiciously scorching it with a torch or on a stupid hot frying pan (500F). This process is much quicker, and prevents a smaller area of your meat being over cooked.
To sear meat, do the following:
- Thoroughly dry your meat. Water interferes with the searing process. Water has an enormous latent heat of evaporation, which means that it takes a lot of energy to evaporate the water before you can start your maillard reaction. You end up steaming your meat if you don't dry it first.
- In a heavy bottom pan, add a judicious amount of grape seed oil or coconut oil.
- Turn the heat up to high.
- Wait for the oil to just about smoke, then quickly sear off each side of your meat.
- Thoroughly dry your meat
- Evenly apply the torch to the surface of the meat until browned.
Step 4: Vacuum Seal
It's time to vacuum pack the meat. I just used a ziplock bag with all the air removed. I'm to cheap to use vacuum bags on slightly freezer burnt meat. Add a squirt of fat to the meat before sealing. I used olive oil.
Step 5: Sous-Vide It!
Time to cook the meat.
- Set your sous-vide to 135F, allow it to come to temperature.
- Immerse your vacuum packed meat.
- Walk away for 2-4 hours.
Step 6: Serve It!
Alright, so your meat is now perfectly cooked. Now what?
Sear it, slice it, plate it, pan-sauce it, and add a side or two!
How to make a pan sauce
- Sear meat
- Add a splash of wine to the pan, and a sprig of thyme. Deglaze by stirring the brown bits (fonde) stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the juice from sous-vide bags.
- Add a knob of butter
- Season to taste with salt and peppa'
- Drizzle pan sauce on sliced meat.
I like to serve pork tenderloin with a simple salad with a tart vinegrette and a few potato wedges. The acid in the vinaigrette complements the salty fat from the pork. The potatoes round it all out.