We were instantly skeptical when we spotted this recipe in Cook's Country. The photo of their finished pork (which you can see below) has an amazing crust on it. The spices are clinging to the meat for dear life, as if they've been fused together by some magical force.
Surely, we thought, this image has been altered. We were certain that if we made this at home, the spice crust would fall off while on the grill, leaving our poor tenderloin exposed.
Turns out we were terribly, terribly wrong. Leave it up to the geniuses at America's Test Kitchen to come up with a way to fuse spices to meat so that it comes off the grill perfectly seasoned, with a beautiful crust.
If you enjoy food problem-solving and don't already get one of the America's Test Kitchen publications -- Cook's Country or Cook's Illustrated -- you're missing out on a foodie education. If you're not familiar with the publications, Cook's Illustrated presents master recipes for a wide variety of dishes, including both American and International fare. You can explore everything we've cooked from the magazine in our Cook's Illustrated category.
Cook's Country, on the other hand, focuses on simpler homestyle fare. It reminds us a bit, in a good way, of church cookbooks we've collected from back home. It isn't Southern food, per se, but it's the kind of food that is potluck-appropriate and most of the dishes are the sort that you can easily throw together for a nice, weeknight meal.
Both magazines follow the same format. The recipe writer walks you through his or her process for arriving at the final recipe, including changes, tweaks and even their own disasters in the test kitchen that occurred on their way to creating the final recipe. In this way, each chapter is a bit like a case that needs to be solved.
Take this recipe, for instance. The author, Jeremy Sauer, sets out to create a grilled pork tenderloin with a flavorful crunch. He experiments with a multitude of ways to get the spice crust to adhere to the pork. He tries versions with olive oil, honey, maple syrup, and corn syrup, with no success. He tries mayonnaise and mustard. Nada. He goes for a flour and egg combination, but ends up with soggy crust. After many more rounds and multiple substitutions, he arrives at an ingenious solution.
So what's the secret to getting a spice crust to adhere to a pork tenderloin? First, roll the tenderloin in cornstarch. Then dip the meat in lightly beaten egg whites. And finally, roll the tenderloin in the cracked spices, pressing the spices into the meat.
And it works beautifully. The pork, first cooked on the hot side of the grill and then finished on the cool side, is juicy and perfectly cooked. But the star here is the spice crust: a fantastic mix of mustard seed, coriander and peppercorns. The grilling gives the spices a nice char, and they, in turn, give the pork a great jolt of flavor.
We were thrilled with the result. And we think you will be, too.
(This photo: Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen)
Serves 4 to 6
To crack the spices, place them in two zipper-lock bags, one inside the other, and press or gently pound with a skillet, rolling pin, or meat mallet. We prefer Demerara and turbinado sugar for their crunch, but plain brown sugar works too. If you don’t have kosher salt, use ½ teaspoon table salt.
2 pork tenderloins (1½ to 2 pounds total)
1½ tablespoons mustard seeds, cracked
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, cracked
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked
1 teaspoon Demerara or turbinado sugar (see note)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cornmeal
½ cup cornstarch
2 large egg whites
1. PREPARE GRILL | Heat all burners on high for 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn other burner(s) off. (For charcoal grill, open bottom vent on grill. Light about 100 coals; when they are covered with fine gray ash, spread over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place and heat covered, with lid vent open completely, for 5 minutes.) Scrape and oil cooking grate.
2. COAT PORK | Meanwhile, pat pork dry with paper towels. Combine mustard seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, sugar, salt, and cornmeal on rimmed baking sheet. Place cornstarch in large bowl. Beat egg whites in second large bowl until foamy. One at a time, coat tenderloins lightly with cornstarch, dip in egg whites, and transfer to rimmed baking sheet to coat with spice mixture.
3. GRILL PORK | Spray tenderloins lightly with cooking spray and grill, -covered, over hot side of grill, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 6 to 8 minutes. Slide pork to cooler side of grill and continue to cook, covered, until meat registers 145 degrees, 6 to 12 minutes longer. Transfer pork to carving board, tent with foil, and let rest 5 -minutes. Slice and serve.