My mom is taking cooking classes from me (her idea), so this post is all about how I’m approaching some of her biggest cooking challenges. Things like:
- how to create sauces
- basic cooking techniques
- more vegetables and fresh ingredients
To kick off this series, I thought we’d start with an approachable, ingredient-centric dish to really showcase how important basic technique is and how to start thinking about the interaction of salt, fat, acid, and heat.
- Pan-seared pork tenderloin over cherry tomatoes (20 minutes)
- Blanched Green Bean Salad (10 minutes)
- Roasted Garlic Polenta (1 hour)
- Ratatouille (40 minutes)
- Cilantro Sauce (5 minutes)
Cooking Techniques: Blanching and Shocking, Roasting, Caramelization, and Knife Skills
Lesson 1: Caramelization
If we’re going to talk about technique, we gotta acknowledge the role of caramelization in making food taste good. So, what is it? How do we get it?
Caramelization is what you get when you apply heat and fat to salted food. It’s where the natural sugars in the food come to the surface and begin to transform into a concentrated sweet, savory and crunchy layer.
Frayed Apron Tip: Some of the most patient cooks are some of the most skilled. Observe whether the food is browning before moving it. Give it as much time as it needs.
How to Sear and Caramelize Pork Tenderloin
Mom is no dummy. She chose a cast iron skillet to pan sear the tenderloin. A hallmark of cast iron is that it distributes heat evenly, making it a smart way to achieve a crust on meat.
Her Question: When do you turn on the heat? Before or after adding the oil?
Answer: Either way is correct. You want to allow the oil to get hot before you add the food.
Coat that pan. Because cast iron is porous, you need about 1/4 cup of oil (more oil than you would need for non-stick). Any high heat oil, such as olive oil, lard, or refined coconut oil will do. Turn the heat to medium and give the pan a minute to preheat. When you see a wisp of smoke, it’s time to get cookin good lookin.
Seasoning Tip: You can get great flavor with a 50/50 blend of salt and pepper with pork. Season from a great height to distribute seasoning evenly across the entire surface of the meat.
Once the meat touches the pan, let it be. Moving food around is a sure way to delay or prevent caramelization. So, the goal then, is to let the hot pan work its magic on the pork for about 5 minutes each side. You can turn the meat with tongs to get a brown crust all along the exterior.
After about 15 to 20 minutes total, use a meat thermometer to take the internal temperature. While pork is safe to eat at 145°F, I recommend taking it to 155°F if you don’t want the inside to be pink.
Let it rest. It’s super important to let the meat rest for at least a few minutes before slicing. Rushing to slice meat will cause those juices to gush out, and we don’t want that to happen.
Lesson 2: Sauce
A well-balanced sauce can add the finishing touch to meat and vegetables alike. When I want to improvise a sauce, I consider the taste of the thing I’m putting it on, and how I might contrast those flavors.
Why This Cilantro Sauce Works with Pork
Imagining the savory, sweet flavor of pork, I wanted a bright and fresh sauce, preferably herbaceous. So, this sauce is all about using briny, zesty, and fresh flavors to accentuate pork. To make this sauce, you need cilantro, garlic, olive oil, apple cider vinegar (or any wine vinegar), capers, and caper brine. For a smooth texture, I like to blitz everything with an immersion blender in a bowl.
Taste and adjust. At this point, I like to taste the sauce to see if it’s too heavy or too light in any one dimension. If it’s too acidic, add more olive oil. You could even add a pinch of red chile flakes for a spicy kick.
Lesson 3: Plating
Plating might be my favorite part because it’s the moment of anticipation before you get to eat! Let’s be honest, mom and I stood over the cutting board eating that pork right away.
Add a garnish. I love some lemon zest or some thinly sliced green onion on most things and make a practice of using fresh garnishes as much as possible for a bit of intrigue and to signal that this is a fresh meal.
Plating 101: Organize the food in the center of the plate so the edges are nice and clean.
Pile it high. So, rather than spreading all the food around, I added a layer of sliced cherry tomatoes to set the pork medallions on top and build in some height.
Even the polenta gets baked with some sliced garlic and then topped with a roasted vegetable ratatouille, which acts a bit like a sauce/garnish.
I really hope you enjoyed what we covered, and if you want to cook along, this recipe would make a fabulous dinner party. If cooking for 1 or 2, you will get plenty of leftovers that will keep for about 4 days. Feel free to make any of the components by themselves, too.
I’ll be sharing more of these cooking with mom classes, so stay tuned or subscribe to my weekly emails.Print
Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which may pay me a small commission for my referral at no extra cost to you!