When it comes to menu planning, Annie and I are from different schools of thought. Annie first builds a menu, then decides which ingredients she needs, and plans everything out before the actual execution of dinner. I start out first with the ingredients that I have on hand, then maybe come up with a menu, and start cooking before I completely figure out the order of execution. It frustrates Annie to no end when I am cooking, as the timing and rhythm are thrown off while I am still working out what I need to do next.
It’s insane, I know. Most times, she needs to step in and take the reins. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, the food I cook actually turns out better than expected.
This is the story of the evolution of my grilled pork tenderloin and halibut dinner.
This dinner actually started out with the Pimientos de Padron peppers we were intending to fry up that evening. Being that these are a popular tapas staple, I wanted to try staying with a Spanish flavor theme. From that, I knew paprika was going to be a major component of the flavor on that pork tenderloin.
I did some searching on Food Blog Search and eventually found a recipe I liked on In Praise of Sardines. His recipe called for just marinating the pork tenderloin in olive oil, salt, paprika and thyme. But I felt that since pork tenderloin was such a lean piece of meat, it could use some time in a brine:
Pork Tenderloin in Brine
A basic brine is just salt and sugar dissolved in water. I don’t know where I came up with this particular brine recipe, but it consists of salt, sugar, molasses, red pepper flakes, thyme, allspice, and bay leaves. The tenderloins were brined for 4 hours in the fridge.
After brining, I removed the tenderloins and patted them dry. Then they were rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with paprika, thyme, and fresh ground black pepper. The tenderloins marinated for about half an hour before grilling.
We had invited some friends over to share the meal with us. The husband is really big into wine. When I told him that we’d be cooking pork tenderloin and halibut for dinner, he consulted his wine list and decided to bring a white wine which he described as having “peach, nectarine and melon flavors”.
Nectarine? We have some nectarines that another friend gave us from their laden tree. How can I incorporate that into the pork tenderloin dinner? More food blog searching led to this recipe on The Bitten Word for nectarine-onion salsa.
The recipe called for grilling the nectarines and onions first, but I decided to riff on it and just dice the nectarines and onions and cook them down in a pot. In keeping with the pork’s flavors, I added some thyme to the mixture:
Nectarine-Red Onion Chutney
(Kinda looks like my Mango Salsa, doesn’t it?)
2 lbs nectarines, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 red onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 jalapeno, finely chopped.
3 Tbsp apricot jam
2 tsp Dijon mustard
I heated the olive oil in a pan over medium heat, then put in the nectarines, onions and minced jalapeno. Seasoned with the salt, black pepper, and thyme. After cooking it down for about 10 minutes, I added some homemade apricot jam, about a tablespoon at at time, to sweeten it to taste. Finally, I added a couple of teaspoons of Dijon mustard to introduce some acidity and complexity to the mix.
Set the chutney aside to cool. (Incidentally, I couldn’t decide what to call this dish. Was it a salsa? A coulis? A compote? I eventually decided that it was a chutney, even though it didn’t have any vinegar in it. The white wine vinegar in the Dijon mustard is close enough, I guess. What do you think best describes this dish? Leave me a comment!)
Third, thrill (of the grill)
The marinated pork tenderloins were grilled over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes per side. I was shooting for a medium doneness on the “touch test“. When it felt about right, I removed the tenderloins from the heat and tented them with foil to rest.
Pork Tenderloin, hot off the grill
After resting, I sliced the tenderloins on the bias, about 3/4 inch thick.
Pork Tenderloin, grilled and sliced
Our friends were amazed at how tender the grilled pork tenderloins were. The meat was literally fork-tender. It’s the brine, I tell you. Besides adding flavor, brining gives you some grilling leeway to avoid overcooking the meat, keeping it juicy.
The grilled pork tenderloin was packed with powerful flavor. I liked that smoky sweetness that the paprika brought, plus the little tingle of heat from the red pepper flakes. The nectarine-red onion chutney was a perfect accompaniment, both for the pork and the wine.
I did say that this dinner also included grilled halibut. Find out how that dish evolved in my next post, coming soon. There’s also a dessert post on the way. All using ingredients we bought during our trip to the Palo Alto Farmer’s Market.