Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fennel and cocoa-encrusted pork tenderloin

Truth: I'm typically not a fan of super sweet and savory foods combined into 1 dish. Although I've started to enjoy a hint of sweetness mixed into a savory dish if the sweet is kept to a minimum (like this grilled brie sandwich with fig jam + bacon, or this amazing goat cheese and thyme with roasted grapes).

Truth: I don't typically like anything chocolate in my savory dishes (I've had only 1 mole dish that I loved, and it was super reddish in color, so likely lower on the chocolate.)

Truth: I BOLDED and italicized the word "typically" in my last 2 statements because there are always exceptions to the rule... like this fennel and cocoa-nib encrusted pork tenderloin.

I swear I let my pork rest for at least 5 minutes, but next time I think I'll let it sit even longer.
Cocoa and sugar on my pork?! What whaaaaaaat? But I promise it's not overly sweet. The sugar isn't a ton, and it help forms a nice caramelized crust on the pork.

Sear in pan + bake in oven = the most magical way to cook pork tenderloin
And the cocoa in the recipe is all unsweetened, natural chocolate (powder + nibs) so it doesn't taste like a chocolate chip cookie. And the fennel... the fennel. I swoon.

Truth: I like to push myself out of my comfort zone at times when it comes to food. There are certain flavors that I absolutely know I don't like (like sesame oil or large amounts of cumin), but sometimes you need to give yourself a little nudge and try something a little different... especially when it comes with a seal of approval from a good friend.

This dish is that something different, because not only is it unique, it's absolutely delicious!!!

Yours in expanding her pork tenderloin repertoire (which includes this amazing Asian-inspired 5-spice pork tenderloin and Puerto-Rican inspired pernil pork),

Fennel and Cocoa-Encrusted Pork Tenderloin, adpated from Floating Kitchen

2 TBSP cocoa nibs
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 TBSP light brown sugar
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 TBSP oil (canola, vegetable), divided
Pork tenderloin (about 1 to 1 1/4 lbs), trimmed of excess fat

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F. Line the inside of a roasting pan with aluminum foil and place a large cookie sheet on top. (I like to use a cookie sheet so the pork doesn't sit in the pan and get soggy, but it's not required if you don't have one.) Set aside.

  2. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the cocoa nibs and fennel seeds until coarse. Transfer to a small bowl and add the sugar, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

  3. Using your hands, rub the tenderloin with 1 TBSP of canola oil. Next, rub the cocoa nib/spice mixture all over the tenderloin, massaging it into the meat and making sure everything is evenly coated.

  4. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining tablespoon of canola oil. Place the tenderloin in the skillet and cook for ~2 minutes. Use your eyes and nose to figure out when to turn the pork; you want a nice crust but you don't want to burn the sugar. (Hot tip: don't move the pork around too much otherwise you won't get that great sear.) Once your first side has a nice crust on it, flip over and brown on all 4 "sides", making sure to cook each side for at least 1-2 minutes to develop the flavor.

  5. Transfer the browned tenderloin to your roasting pan and place in the pre-heated oven. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the tenderloin reaches 135-140 degrees F. (You can go up to 145-150 degrees but you run the risk of overcooking the pork, since it'll continue to increase in temperature once you remove it from the oven.) This can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes.

  6. Once your tenderloin is cooked, removed it from the oven, tent with foil, and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes at room temperature. Cut the pork tenderloin into slices and serve immediately. 

  7. Leftovers are great warmed up or eaten cold (I like it sliced cold on a big, green salad).


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