Zuni Café House-Cured Pork Tenderloin

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I was trying to write a witty and informative story about this dish when I realized that we had actually eaten it over two weeks ago (that’s what we get for going away for the holidays). The main thing that I do remember is that it was good. Really really good.

I’ve begun wondering what pork really tastes like. I’ve suffered through enough bad pork chops to know that it can taste like chewing. And I think I’ve figured out how to make pork taste like something else. Many of the pork dishes I’ve cooked have been quite tasty but they don’t really make me think of pork. I have noticed that the pork flavor in home-cured meats like bacon and pancetta has a more pork flavor to it but I’ve never really achieved that in other pork dishes.

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Until I made this one. I’ve brined pork before and it made it tender and even added flavor with it, but I never was able to make the pork taste porkier. I don’t know what it is about this brine that makes the pork flavor so much more pronounced. My guess is that it’s the length of the brine combined with a weaker brine solution.

This is a fantastically easy recipe. The hardest part is remembering to brine the pork several days in advance. Cooking the pork couldn’t be easier: just sear and then roast in the oven.

It’s not a particularly sexy presentation and it doesn’t use particularly exotic ingredients. It’s just the application of simple ingredients to make a wonderful meal.

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Zuni Café House-Cured Pork Tenderloin
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

1 pork tenderloin, about 1 lbs.
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 dried chiles
4 crushed juniper berries
2 1/2 cups water
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt

  1. Place 1 cup of water and the bay leaves, dried chiles, and juniper berries in a sauce pan. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat. Stir and break up the ingredients with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and cover. Allow to infuse for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining water, the sugar, and salt to the aromatic mixture. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Put the pork tenderloin in a large zip-top bag and pour the brine over it. Place in the refrigerator and allow to brine for 2 to 4 days.
  3. Remove the pork tenderloin from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking. Remove from the brine and pat dry. Rub the pork tenderloin with olive oil.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
  5. Place a heavy cast-iron skillet over high-heat. When hot, sear the tenderloin on all three sides. Turn the tenderloin to the fourth side and place the skillet in the oven.
  6. Cook the tenderloin in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 140ºF. Remove the tenderloin from the oven and then remove it from the cast-iron skillet. Wrap the tenderloin in aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Slice the tenderloin into thick slices and serve.

Serves 2 to 3.

6 Responses to “Zuni Café House-Cured Pork Tenderloin”


  1. 2 everyotherdaygourmet March 28, 2008 at 7:59 am

    this sounds incredible. do you think the brine would be effective if I only had overnight to brine it? also, I’m wondering if I could leave the oven on a lower temp and leave it in there longer. I’m trying to keep it warm for a party. thoughts?

  2. 3 Matt March 29, 2008 at 12:04 am

    The brine would probably be good but not as effective if it was only overnight. It would be better than not brining it at all.

    You could also keep it in a 200F oven virtually indefinitely (after being cooked) without too many ill effects.

  3. 4 Francis X. Bushman May 25, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Where can one find juniper berries out in the boondocks?

  4. 5 Francis X. Bushman May 25, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Oh, I forgot to ask: What can be substituted for juniper berries?

  5. 6 Matt May 25, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Juniper berries should be in the spice section of any grocery store. There not as exotic as they sound (they’re frequently used in German cooking).

    As for a substitute, I’m not sure if there’s a really good one. Juniper berries and pork work very well together. I’d probably leave it out if I didn’t have any.

    According to Wikipedia, gin is flavored with juniper berries so you could try adding some gin. I’ve never tried it, however.


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