Fennel & Mustard-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

It saddens me sometimes when I realize certain taste differences between Chad and myself. He won’t eat cooked spinach. Period. He doesn’t gravitate to the sweet or even the sweet/savory. Such limitations result. But of course, I don’t like spicy food, onions, or bell peppers (quelle horreur!). I suppose it evens out. My point is: Chad may never grow to love mustard like I do. This fills me with sadness and at the same time, injects me with intense determination. I recently found victory in the form of this fennel and mustard seed-crusted pork tenderloin. Both flavorful and budget-friendly, this is a great main dish for company or for freezing. Often, you buy tenderloins in packages, cut in half. This allows for fixing, then freezing, then fixing again. Or pork sandwiches. Make this if you like mustard and herbs. If you hate all things remotely licorice in flavor, omit the fennel. Trust me. I got your back on this one. If you are pro-licorice, go for it. Fennel is one of those things people tend to hardly use but I can’t figure out why because it’s so intense and delicious. And so is this brined pork.

I pretty much never make pork without brining. The only exceptions are pork ribs or slow-cooked pulled pork. But roasts, chops, and tenderloins are always brined. Here’s why: Brining or marinating in a salted liquid helps meat stay moist and adds flavors (the same way a regular marinade would) like salt and other additives. This time the additives were Dijon and stone-ground deli mustard. And brining doesn’t take long. I brined this pork for 20-30 minutes while I made the side dishes and the finished product needed no additional salt–the perfectly balanced saltiness came from the brine alone. I do the same thing with Thanksgiving turkeys but it takes a lot more salted water and vegetable stock. And a five-gallon paint bucket lined with a giant food-grade plastic bag. Is it weird that I brine Thanksgiving dinner in a paint bucket I keep on the porch?

I also make use of my new latest cooking gadget when making this dish. I wanted one ever since I saw the next-door-neighbor of my dreams use one on his show. Alton raved about them and I could completely see why. Not sure about your oven temperature? Doesn’t matter. Not sure that the time in the recipe will work exactly for you? Who cares! Afraid of over or under-cooking that meat, bread, etc? You can’t!

So easy. You will always make this at the right temperature. Just push the thermometer end into the thickest part of the meat before cooking and close the oven door on the cord. Then a bell goes off and it’s done. No worrying or stressing about ruining dinner because you’ll have to try really hard to ruin it. It’s not expensive. If you cook frequently, get it. If nothing else, get a regular probe thermometer (the one without a cord and timer) so you can measure the temperature and see if you need to cook it longer. I’m not even giving you a cooking time because it’s not fair to assume that your cooking will be the same as mine. The factors include: how big is the cut of meat? what temperature was it when you started cooking it? is your oven temperature correct? really? are you sure? was it fully preheated when you threw the tenderloin in there? These are all reasons cooking times can vary. My OCD self had issues with this whole thing when I started really cooking (not just making things to eat). But I saw someone and meditated and now I am at peace with my imperfect oven and my gaggle of measuring devices.

1 C water
1/2 C salt (I used kosher)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp stone-ground mustard
1 whole pork tenderloin
1/2 tsp parsley
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/3 C breadcrumbs (I had Italian style)

Heat the water until almost boiling. Add the salt and stir until dissolved. Pour in some room temperature water to cool it off. Add in the mustards and stir well. Place the tenderloin in a large plastic bag and add the mustard brine. After sealing the bag, use your fingers to smush the clumps of mustard and massage the liquid into the tissues. Let this brine in the fridge or on the counter for 20-30 minutes and turn the oven on to 375. Meanwhile, stir together all the remaining ingredients to form the crust coating. Then go make some side dishes or read for class or clean the bathroom floor. When you’re done brining, pour out the brine and rinse the pork (you don’t need all that extra liquid and salt) and trim off any fat clumps. Lay on a greased baking sheet and sprinkle on the crust mix. When the topping is all laid on the top of the pork, use your dry fingers to smush the breadcrumb/herb mixture into the pork. Drizzle olive oil all over, push the thermometer into the thickest part, and stick in the oven.

When it reaches at least 160 degrees (I go for 163 just because I’m paranoid) it is done. Let it sit 10 minutes before you slice on a diagonal, being careful not to scrape off the topping.

Some mustard is usually acceptable if there is broccoli somewhere in the meal. Mr. Carnivore loves broccoli so I usually serve this with some steamed florets and roasted potatoes. Green salad or (gasp!) sauteed spinach would be delicious too. Tonight it was mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. And my goodness. Pork is rarely allowed to be this tender and flavorful. Remember those dry, tasteless pork chops you had that one time that made you hate pork chops forever?

This is a recipe for salvation.


2 responses to “Fennel & Mustard-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  1. Funny thing. I just made a pork roast a few weeks ago, and made good use of my kitchen thermometer as well. ALSO inspired by alton (dreamy eyes). However I would never good pork above 150 degrees. It continues to cook while it rests and makes for a much more tender and moist roast. However, I also make sure I buy thinks like pork roasts for a legit place, such as a butcher as opposed to the supermarket.

  2. It is true that something like a roast will cook considerably after it is removed from the oven, however there is not too much mass to the pork tenderloin so there isn’t as much heat that transfers over. I think if you tried the tenderloin at 160-165 degrees you would still find it moist thanks to the brining.

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