Last night, I had a small dinner party for a visiting V.I.P. from La Belle France. I will not say his name, because I wish to respect his privacy; however, he ended up at my table thanks to a cultural organization that was looking for someone to host him in their home, presumably so he could see how we dine and host in here in Amerique profonde.
It was a delightful evening—he and his translator were fantastic guests.
I wanted to serve something that we were very proud of here—our own cuisine de terroir (cooking from our fields and barnyards). On the menu, of course, was La Quercia Prosciutto, made just down the road, which I served as a sit-down first course with roasted asparagus, mixed olives, and deviled eggs.
As I brought out the plat principal (main course), I explained to our guests that because we had more hogs in Iowa than people, pork was often on our tables. I had simply marinated Niman Ranch pork tenderloins (which is raised here in Iowa) in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and allspice, and roasted it in a 425˚F oven for 25 minutes, then let it stand, covered with foil, for about 15 minutes, resulting in pork that was a succulent light-pink. I served it with baked rice and a salad, which included some shredded locally grown rainbow chard leaves and heirloom tomatoes.
As the platter went round the table, his translator—a born New Yorker who had once lived in France—asked me, “Is it okay to eat pork that’s this pink?”
I completely respected her for asking. After all, part of her job (she was hired by the cultural agency) was to look after the VIP, which presumably included making sure no one served him unsafe food.
But I also assured her that, yes, the pork was cooked to a safe doneness. I had taken the pork out of the oven at 145˚F, and gave it a good stand-time, which follows the new USDA guidelines for cooking whole cuts of pork. Often, this results in pork that is a luscious, light-rosy pink.
Of course, many chefs and home cooks today have been cooking their pork to this rosy-doneness whether the USDA tells them they can or not. However, I was always a bit squeamish about doing so for guests: After all, the joys of hosting do come with the responsibility to make sure whatever you serve is safe to eat. It’s nice to know that I can serve a great Iowa pork tenderloin at its most succulent best—and know that there’s some food science that has assured me it’s safe to do so.
Here’s my recipe. It’s adapted from an old community cookbook, compiled in support of Terrace Hill, Iowa’s governor’s mansion. The original recipe called for baking it to a dry 170˚F. Now, we know better!
Marinated Loin of Pork
3 large minced garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground allspice
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 pork tenderloins (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds total), preferably antibiotic- and hormone-free naturally raised pork, such as
For marinade, crush the garlic cloves, salt, rosemary, thyme, and allspice together in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil; mix well. Place tenderloins in a resealable plastic bag; pour marinade over the tenderloins. Refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.
Bake, uncovered, in a 425˚F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 145˚F. Remove from oven; let stand, covered with foil, for 10 to 15 minutes before carving to serve.