Coffee + Sorghum Brined Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Carrots
Pork tenderloin is one of those really unoffensive cuts of meat that most (pork eating) folks tend to like. I’m a big fan of it too–especially when I can get a beautiful tenderloin of heritage breed pork from my friends at Riverview Farms. It’s not a cheap cut of meat, so I always want to take extra steps to make sure I don’t end up with a dry, bland outcome. I’ve sung the praises of brining before (here and here), and it’s no exception this time. If you can plan ahead and spend a little time the day before you plan to cook your tenderloin, a brine will virtually guarantee a moist, flavorful dish!
This brine has coffee, spices, and sorghum, a syrup similar to molasses that’s made from grass grown largely in the Southeastern US. You can always use molasses or honey if you can’t find sorghum or don’t want to buy a whole jar. And if you do find yourself with almost a whole jar of leftover sorghum, I highly recommend trying it on hot biscuits or pancakes. I’ve added carrots to this dish because they’re easy to pop into the pan, where they’ll soak up some of the juices and flavor of the pork. If you don’t have room in your pan or just want to make the carrots separately, here you go. This recipe serves 2-3 people.
1-1.5 lb pork tenderloin
1 c strong coffee (hot or cold)
1 c ice water + 1 c water
3 Tbsp course salt
2-3 Tbsp sorghum, molasses, or honey
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp whole cardamom pods
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp whole cloves
olive oil or other roasting oil
1/2 lb baby carrots, greens removed
salt + pepper
cast iron or oven-safe skillet (see notes for other options)
1. Make your brine. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil 1 c strong coffee, 1 c water, 3 Tbsp course salt, 2-3 Tbsp sorghum, 2 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp each black peppercorns, whole cardamom pods, whole allspice, and whole cloves. Stir and continue heating until all salt and sorghum is dissolved. Remove from heat and add 1 c ice water. Stir until ice is melted and then refrigerate the mixture if necessary until it’s no longer warm (you don’t want to cook the meat at all).
2. Prepare your meat. While brine is cooling, remove any extra fat around the tenderloin. Place meat in a glass or ceramic dish just wider and deeper than the meat. When the brine is cool enough, pour it over the meat, cover the dish, and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place rack in middle of oven.
4. Sear the meat. Preheat a cast iron or other oven-safe skillet to medium high heat with enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. While the pan preheats, remove tenderloin from brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels (moisture is the enemy of browning). Once the pan is preheated–and only then–add the meat. Leave the meat undisturbed for at least 1-2 minutes. When the first side is a deep golden brown, rotate. Repeat until all sides are seared. When you flip the meat to its last side, add the carrots to the pan. Toss the carrots, coating them with oil (add more if necessary).
5. Finish in oven. Once meat is totally browned and carrots are added, place pan in preheated oven. Roast at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 140°F. Set meat aside, cover, and let rest for at least 5-10 minutes. Continue roasting carrots (if necessary) until they are tender, then season with salt and pepper to taste. After meat has rested, slice crosswise into 1/2″ to 1″ thick slices and serve with carrots on warm plates.
If you don’t have a cast iron skillet or other oven-safe pan (one whose handle will not melt), use a normal skillet on the stovetop and place another oven-safe dish in the oven to preheat. Once the meat is seared and carrots are added, move them to the other dish with all of the juices from the pan and proceed with the recipe.
This amount of brine should accommodate a tenderloin larger than 1.5 lbs (just use a smaller dish if necessary), but if you need more brine, stick to a ratio of 1 Tbsp salt for every 1 cup of liquid.
You could also try this brine for pork chops, a pork sirloin, or a pork roast that’s going in the crockpot.
You can substitute ground spices for the whole ones, but decrease the amount to 1/2 tsp. You can mix and match spices depending on what you have on hand. Cinnamon sticks and nutmeg are other great additions.
I used a bunch of whole baby carrots that I got at the farmers market, but you can use the kind of baby carrots you can buy in a bag at the grocery store or larger carrots that have been halved or quartered lengthwise and cut into 3-4″ sticks.