BRAIDED PORK TENDERLOIN
This recipe owes its origins to my daughter's gap year in 2009, when she and Frances and I made a Grand Tour of central and southern Europe. In Gyula in Hungary both she and Frances ordered the same thing for dinner: pork tenderloin braided with air-dried ham and a spice paste.
Even our first attempt to re-create it was extremely successful, but we learned three important lessons. First, you need to halve the tenderloin lengthwise, or the ends will dry out before the much thicker middle is cooked, even if you fold them back on themselves. Second, you want as much fat as possible on the ham, as this is what bastes the meat. For the same reason, you want full-fat yogurt: Greek is ideal. Third, the meat must be heavily trimmed if you want it to look pretty, though this is less important if you are just making it for yourself. Use the trimmings in a blanquette or a stir fry.
To about 150 ml (4-6 ounces) of yogurt add about a teaspoon each of paprika, ground cumin and crushed garlic: anything from a clove to five cloves. Add salt if you are not using much ham: with enough ham, you'll need no salt at all. We rarely use any, though we often add a splash of bourbon. Stir to get a uniform mixture.
Trim all gristle and excess fat off the tenderloin, then cut it in half lengthwise. Starting maybe an inch (25mm) from the top, cut each half into three long, thin strips, leaving them joined at the top. Smear the meat with the spice paste.
Cut enough ham to fit between the braids. You want strips that are as long as possible, and as thin as possible, with as much fat as is convenient. They should not be significantly wider than the strips of tenderloin, and they don't need to be the full length: use a series of shorter strips instead. The amount of ham is a matter of taste and purse: you can use as little as an ounce/30g per half tenderloin (though this will require very thin ham) or three or four times as much.
Braid the pork loin with the ham between the braids. Secure the ends with wooden tooth-picks. If need be, double them back so that the doubled part is about the same thickness as the centre.
Grill on a barbecue or cast-iron grill for up to 10 minutes on one side and up to 8 minutes on the other; or pan-fry or put under a grill for about the same length of time; or bake in the oven. For the last, pre-heat the oven as hot as it will go; wrap the meat in aluminium foil; after about 10 minutes, turn back the foil except at the thin ends; turn the oven down to 200F , 90°C, Gas Mark 6; then cook for another 10-20 minutes. A lot depends on how moist you like your pork.Ingredients (to serve 2-4)
One whole pork tenderloin, typically 500g (18 oz.) or so
Air-dried ham, in long, thin strips, about 60-200g (3-7 ounces)
Yogurt, approximately 150 ml (4-6 ounces)
Paprika, powdered, 1 heaped teaspoon
Cumin, ground, 1 level teaspoon
Black pepper, fresh milled, 1 level teaspoon
Salt (optional) up to 1 teaspoon
Crushed garlic, at least 5 cloves
Grill (any type including barbecue), frying pan, oven
Pre-heat oven (if you're baking the tenderloin) to 450°F, 230°C, Gas
Stir paprika, cumin, pepper, crushed garlic, salt (if used) into yogurt
Trim pork tenderloin and cut in half lengthwise
Starting about 1 inch/25mm from the top, slice each half into three "tails"
Smear each "tail" with the yogurt paste
Braid the three strips together, with ham between each strip
Secure end with toothpick
Repeat for the other half
Barbecue 8-10 minutes on first side. 6-8 minutes on second OR
Grill 8-10 minutes on first side. 6-8 minutes on second OR
Fry 8-10 minutes on first side. 6-8 minutes on second OR
Wrap in aluminium foil and bake in pre-heated very hot oven for 10 minutes AND
Partially uncover (centre only) and finish baking at 200°F/90°C/Gas Mark
6 for 10-20 minutes
As ever, make any changes you like: this is not a domestic science class. Quantities of some ingredients can be halved or doubled; I already mentioned adding a splash of bourbon to the paste; you can leave out the garlic if you insist; cooking times can be adjusted widely; and if you're really clever you can leave both ends of each half-tenderloin intact and do the braiding by pushing one end through the slots.
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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016