Pork Tenderloin- How I adapt a basic technique to create endless flavor combinations

One of my go-to quick weeknight dinners is pork tenderloin. It cooks in about 30 minutes, and there are endless ways to vary the flavors to keep things interesting. I’ve learned the basic technique of how to cook a pork tenderloin and now I just adapt it on the fly based on what I have on-hand. This post will have less precise measurements, as I don’t measure anything with this recipe. I just eyeball it. Here is what I do:

Pork Tenderloin- Master Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Heat an oven safe skillet (I use a large cast iron skillet) over medium high heat with about 1 TBSP of olive oil.
  2. Season the tenderloin. At the very least, salt and pepper the entire thing before cooking. (More on seasoning later.)
  3. Sear the tenderloin on all sides until brown. This takes about 10 minutes.
  4. Spread the tenderloin with a glaze if you’re using it (more on this later) then transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 18-20 minutes depending on the size of the tenderloin (18-20 minutes for about 1.5 lbs). The internal temperature should reach 145 degrees when it’s finished.
  5. Remove tenderloin from the oven, and place on a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes. While the tenderloin is resting, you can make the pan sauce if you choose to (more on this later).
  6. I serve this sliced in 1/2 inch slices with the sauce.

That is my basic pork tenderloin recipe. Now the fun begins!

Adapt the seasonings

Here are some ideas on how you can adapt the seasonings for your pork tenderloin:

  1. Try an herb rub. Mix together salt, pepper, and some dried herbs such as sage, thyme or rosemary. Add a finely chopped garlic clove and a few teaspoons of olive oil. Rub the tenderloin with this herb mixture prior to searing it.
  2. Barbecue flavors. Try mixing some brown sugar, paprika, and chili powder for a smokey bbq rub.
  3. Marinate. Mix about 1/2 cup olive oil, 3-4 TBSP soy sauce, 1 TBSP dijon mustard and 2-3 TBSP various dried herbs such as sage, thyme, rosemary. Whisk together and pour over the tenderloin either in a bowl or a large ziplock baggie. This one you would need to do ideally 4-6 hours before you cook it.

Add a glaze

I typically make a glaze out of jam that I have in my fridge. Usually I have some pear cranberry jam, or peach jam in my fridge and I use that as the base for my glaze. I take about 1/4 cup of jam, add 1-2 TBSP of an acid such as red wine vinegar or fruit juice, and 1 TBSP of dijon mustard. Whisk that together and spread it on the tenderloin prior to baking.

You can also spread your tenderloin with dijon mustard and brown sugar as well. Or try equal parts soy sauce and honey.

You have to make sure your glaze doesn’t burn before your pork is done, so keep an eye on it. You might have to cover it with foil to finish the cooking so it doesn’t get too dark.

For the tenderloin I just made, I used some leftover fresh cranberry sauce that I had as the jam and I used orange juice as my acid.

Finish with a pan sauce

Once you’ve added your glaze and roasted your tenderloin, then you have the opportunity to use the pan drippings to make a delicious finishing sauce. This is why I like to sear and roast the tenderloin in an oven safe skillet, then you can make the sauce in that same pan and not waste any of the drippings.

First, remove the tenderloin from the skillet and place it on a cutting board to rest. Then add 1-2 finely chopped garlic cloves and 1 shallot or a small onion finely chopped. Saute those in the pan drippings for about a minute. Then add a liquid to de-glaze your pan. You can use a dry red wine, stock, or fruit juice here. I add about a cup or so. Use your spoon/mixing tool to scrape all those nice crispy bits off the bottom of the pan. Simmer this for a few minutes (less than 5) until it has reduced and becomes thicker.

I will often add fruit to my pan sauce as well because pork pairs so well with fruit. Some of my favorites are apples and pears. I’ll thinly slice them and add them in with the garlic and shallots. Then they get soft in the liquid you use to de-glaze your pan. You will have to reduce your sauce a bit longer, since the fruit will release juice as it cooks.

For this most recent tenderloin, I used sweet cherries (about 1 cup, seeds removed and cherries cut in half)! This was the first time that I’ve used cherries, but I had them on-hand and needed to use them up. I used red wine as my deglazing liquid and the sauce was delicious!

There are so many variations on this basic pork tenderloin recipe that you could probably have a different one every week with no repeats. I love learning a technique by following a recipe, then branching out to experiment with my own flavors. Once you have the confidence to move beyond a recipe, then you can begin to be creative with the flavors that you enjoy, and it gives you more flexibility in using what you have on hand with less waste.

Let me know the flavors you choose!