Ok, now that we got that out of the way….If you’ve read this blog a bit, it becomes pretty clear that we are big fans of low-and-slow pork dishes here at the farm. And while we would smoke and pull pork every week if our schedules and waistlines allowed, sometimes we need other options. And for quick(er) pork dishes we look to chops and tenderloins. There are few easier dishes to prepare than pork tenderloin. Put a quick sear on it, pop it in the oven for a few minutes and you’re done. And sometimes it’s pretty good, and sometimes it bone dry and lacking flavor. And there are a number of reasons why things don’t always work out. Basic overcooking is the obvious reason for dry and flavorless pork, but also the size, shape and liquid content of the tenderloin come into play. But there is a simple way to make leaner pork cuts tasty and tender every time, brining.
A brine is simply a combination of water, salt, sugar and your choice of herbs and spices. But when you add meat, the brine performs some pretty cool
magic chemistry that greatly improves the tenderness, juiciness and flavor of almost any cut. (Here is a good link that describes the science without getting too geeky). The only issue with brines is that they will dry out meats if you brine them for too long, but as long as you follow the recipe or the standard times for brining, it isn’t a risk. Many cooks think of brines helping with large roasts like turkey or pulled pork, and the brining lasting for days. But for small cuts like pork tenderloins, even 45 minutes will help, and a few hours will do wonders.
Opinions on the times for brining pork tenderloins vary from forty-five minutes to four hours. The shorter times will still make the tenderloin juicy and tender, but not impart much extra flavor. The longer times will add some salt and flavor, perhaps too much salt for some. Two hours is a good starting point. The other variable in the brine is adding extra flavors. Technically, all you need is water and salt, but sugar, herbs and spices will boost flavor. We suggest you tune the brine based on the type of meat and your tastes. But, in general, sugar, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf seem to work in most brines. Black pepper and chili peppers add some extra bite. We do suggest caution with strong or “piney” herbs like sage, oregano or rosemary- as they may add bitter notes to the brine. Best to save them for any rub or marinade you put on the pork.