Mon 14 Sep 2015

Food Without Fuss: Fillet With Flavour


These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the autumn 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne EvansSuch an appealing name, isn’t it ‘pork tenderloin’? Or, as the French call it filet mignon – a darling bit of meat, if you will. It evokes melt-in-the-mouth succulence and conversation-stopping taste.

Alas, the reality is somewhat different. Pork fillet as we should more prosaically call it is one of the blandest cuts known to pig-fanciers everywhere. At its cheapest and worst, it’s the hatchet-faced, mean-spirted, soulless poster boy of the Fat is Bad brigade. To the wretched notion of breeding a beast specifically ‘for leanness’ add the drastic trimming of every vestige of adipose tissue from the joint itself. It’s ‘healthy’ and convenient. It cooks quickly. What more can you ever demand of food?

Taste, that’s what, and for enthusiastic eaters like me and producers who want my money in exchange for something worth having, the tide is slowly turning. Free-range production is on the up and old, rare breeds are making a comeback. In some countries, like Spain, they never went away, of course, and that sublime meat is increasingly available.

Life, as ever, is about choices if you are lucky enough to have them course. For the price of a loin of Ibérico pork, you could probably buy two of the very good British outdoor-reared variety and heaven knows how many of the imported, intensively-produced, husbandry-bereft price-warriors to be found on many supermarket shelves. I understand why they are there, but I‘d like to think that I would find something better on a tight budget, if only for the sake of the wretched animal at the source of this ghastly chain.

A pork tenderloin is a very practical thing that can be sliced and flash-fried or braised or roasted whole. The trendy thinking these days is that the best way to cook a 1kg piece of fillet is to seal it in a pan for a few minutes and then transfer it to a very low oven – about 80C or less than Gas ¼ – for about an hour and a half. This gives a very pink result, beloved of leading chefs, but feared to be a bit dodgy by the food science community, which insists that our meat must hit a decisive 75C on a food thermometer unless we want a very antisocial character called trichinella spiralis to join the party. I’m easily spooked, so I haven’t tried this technique. I merely mention it to more fearless fellow-members with the useful tip that there are plenty of potentially suicidal recipes online to have a go at.

Instead, I pass on my favourite ways with pork fillet, two curated, one created. They range from super-fast to very leisurely. You don’t need to splurge on Iberian Black but, as ever, the better the meat, the better the result.

Our Autumn Wine Without Fuss selection has any number of excellent prospects for all these recipes. I’ve selected my favourites for easy reference, along with money-no-object options. Once you’ve bankrupted yourself with Ibérico, you may as well go down in flames, and what a way to go!


I once stayed at an enchanting posada in the hills just 20 minutes (and a world) from Granada and very handy for the Alhambra. Our hostess, a talented chef, fed guests who wanted to ‘eat in’ but a day’s notice had to be given. It was soon apparent why: it makes no commercial sense at all to buy more portions of prime Pata Negra pork than you have diners to eat them.

Having tried it once, my b.t.m was on my seat for most of our stay, in anticipation of another portion of medallions of Pata Negra, seared quickly with the estate’s own olive oil and the zest and juice of the bittersweet little oranges from the garden below – something to think about in January, when the Seville oranges arrive.

Meanwhile, I’m going large on elderberries in this wonderful 19th-century recipe from Anna del Conte, one I’ve already shared with members. For this is pays to pick copious quantities of the sharp little so-and-sos while you can to freeze for out-of-season use. A small elder has made its home in the Wine Society car park, where, I’m fairly sure, I was the first – and probably only – employee to have been caught scrumping by our security camera. It was worth it. Buy the very best pork fillet you can justify for this, and if it’s impossible to get elderberries, try using a jar of unsweetened black cherries.

With this, I’d serve a crunchy, curranty red, not to dry so that it can also mop up the sweet-and-sour elements. 88 Growers Barossa Shiraz (£6.95, Buyers’ Everyday Reds) would work as would Painted Wolf ‘Peloton’ Rouge (£8.95, Buyers’ Premium Reds). For a very special occasion, try a warm southern Italian red like Graticciaia (£32).

Fillet of Pork Cavalcanti-Style
From The Gastronomy of Italy by Anna del Conte (Pavilion, 2005)
Serves 4

600g pork fillets
40g unsalted butter
2 tbs olive oil
120ml good red wine
4 tsp sugar
a pinch of ground cinnamon
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs very finely ground almonds
2 tbs elderberries
1 tbs capers preferably in salt, rinsed

Trim the fat off the pork fillets and cut the min half, if necessary so they will fit in a large sauté pan. Heat half the butter and the olive oil in the pan and add the pork. Sauté until brown on all sides.

Bring the wine to the boil in a separate small pan and pour over the meat with 2 tablespoons hot water. When the liquid has come back to the boil, add salt and pepper. Turn the heat down so that the liquid will just simmer, cover the pan tightly and cook for 10 minutes, or until the pork is done. Remove the meat from the pan and keep warm.

Add the sugar and cinnamon, the balsamic vinegar, almonds, elderberries and capers to the pan and cook stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Break the remaining butter into small pieces and add gradually to the sauce while gently stirring and swirling the pan.

Slice the meat (not too thinly) and return to the pan for 2 minutes to absorb the flavour of the sauce. Serve immediately.

fast roast pork2) A SUPERFAST SUNDAY ROAST
Delia Smith’s ostensibly start-from-scratch series of three books had plenty to teach not only rookies but competent cooks. The recipe below puts a good roast dinner on the table in record time.

It’s a versatile plateful that would work well with wine of any colour, though I have a marginal preference for white. A good core of fruit, lively acidity and a notch just above bone dryness are what’s required which points me towards riesling. Our Autumn Wine Without Fuss selections have plenty of choice, from Blind Spot Clare Valley (£7.95, Buyers’ Everyday Whites) to the patrician Alsatian Les Princes Abbés from Schlumberger (French Classic Whites). Having said that, Painted Wolf ‘Peloton’ Blanc (£8.95, Buyers’ Premium Wines) has what it takes too. If you are pushing the boat out, demi-sec Vouvray or a fine German riesling with a sweetness codes of 3-4 are perfect. On the red front, head for the Loire and a fresh cabernet franc, or Portugal.

Fast Roast Pork with Rosemary and Caramelised Apples
An online recipe by Delia Smith, adapted from her How to Cook, Book 2
Serves 6

2 thick British pork fillets (weighing 12 oz/350 g each after trimming)
1 rounded tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
500g Cox’s apples (about 3 large apples), skins left on, cored and cut into 6 wedges each, or quartered if they are small
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin slices
1½ oz (40 g) butter
1½ tablespoons cider vinegar
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 level tablespoon demerara sugar
225 ml medium cider
2 heaped tablespoons half-fat crème fraîche
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 8, 450°F (230°C). First of all, using a small, sharp knife, make little slits all over the pork and push the slivers of garlic into them, turning the fillet over so the garlic is in on both sides.

Next, place the rosemary leaves in a mortar and bruise them with a pestle to release their fragrant oil, then chop them very finely. Now melt the butter and combine it with the cider vinegar, then brush the meat with some of this mixture, sprinkle with half the rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the onion over the buttered baking tray and place the pork on top. All this can be prepared in advance, then covered with clingfilm.

When you want to cook the roast, prepare the apples by tossing them with the remaining cider vinegar and butter mixture, then arrange them all around the pork on the baking tray and sprinkle with the sugar and the rest of the rosemary.

Place the baking tray in the oven on a high shelf and roast for 25-30 minutes (this will depend on the thickness of the pork), until the pork is cooked and there are no pink juices. After that, remove the baking tray from the oven and transfer the pork and apples to a hot serving dish, cover with foil and keep warm. Meanwhile, pour a little of the cider on to the tray, over the heat, to loosen the onions and juices from it, then pour into a saucepan over a medium heat, add the rest of the cider and let it bubble and reduce by about a third – this will take about 5 minutes.

Then whisk in the crème fraîche, let it bubble a bit more and add some seasoning. After the pork has rested for about 10 minutes, transfer it to a board and carve it into thick slices, then return them to the serving plate to rejoin the apples. Pour the sauce over and serve as soon as possible. Roast potatoes are particularly good with this.

Copyright © 2009 Delia Smith/New Crane Internet Limited, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

(All my own work!)

A slow, leisurely roast seems to bring out the best both in expensive and cheaper tenderloins. The meat gets a good browning and then 4-5 hours in a slow cooker. The benefit of buying your fillet from the butcher is that you can request (a) a nice layer of fat which will melt away in the cooking and flavour the juices, and (b) the bones. These I use as a trivet for the meat and don’t discard them when their work is done. Hold the icky-sticky barbecue sauce, for they will be the best ribs you have ever had. I have often sneaked a couple while pretending to be so busy in my very small kitchen that all boarders are repelled. Now guests will know why!

The bonus here is that you can be your own woman or man for several hours, while the house gradually fills with outrageously good aromas.

This is an immensely forgiving recipe which wallows happily with any mellow, fruity wine of any colour. Building on the rapport of riesling with pork, so Riesling Tradition, Kuentz-Bas (£9.25, Buyers’ Premium Whites) is a good choice. For reds, try Corbières Château Ollieux Romanis (Buyers’ Premium Reds) or celebrate another great pork producer, Corsica, with Fiumeseccu from Domaine Alzipratu (£12.95, Buyers’ Classic Reds); but this is gentle enough not to scare off a good Bordeaux. You’ll find both shades of Vieux Château Gaubert in the French Classic selections but if you can wait no longer to uncork a precious bottle of Domaine de Chevalier that’s fine with me!

Slow-cooked Tenderloin, Pure and Simple
Serves 4-6

1 kg pork fillet, in one piece, tied, with bones if possible
1 large onion, wedged into eighths
2 tbs olive oil
A bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks
Salt and pepper
120ml double cream

Note: slow cookers vary enormously so always follow your handbook, and have a meat thermometer at the ready. Some need to be preheated, others don’t. This dish takes a good four hours on my HIGH Crock-Pot setting, correspondingly longer on models offering AUTO or MEDIUM. I tend to avoid LOW unless keeping cooked food warm.

Firstly, ensure the meat is at room temperature by removing it from the fridge an hour before you are ready to cook. Preheat your slow-cooker for 20 minutes if your model requires it.

If you have the bones , preheat the oven to 200°/Gas 6-7. Lay the bones in a roasting pan and brown for 20-35 minutes until the rawness has disappeared.

Heat a large frying pan and add the oil. Season the joint generously with salt and pepper and carefully lower, fat side down into the pan. Brown it thoroughly, for a few minutes on each side, including both ends. I find it helps to stand it on end wedged in long barbecue tongs.

Remove from the pan and keep warm. Add the wedges of onion and brown them too.

When all that’s done, remove the bones from the oven and drain off the rendered fat (save it for roast potatoes).

Remove the lid of the cookpot and work fast now to minimise heat loss. Place the loin of pork at the bottom, in contact with the heat, and tuck the bones and onion wedges around it. Push in the bay leaves and the herbs. Replace the lid and don’t touch for 4 hours. If you do sneak a peek, be willing to atone for your impatience with an extra 15 minutes on the cooking time. I know they eat late in Spain, but really, don’t be tempted!

After 4 hours, remove the lid of the cookpot and insert your meat thermometer. It should register at least 75°C. If it does, it’s done and you can remove it to rest for 20 minutes in a warm place. If not, give it another half-hour. It won’t come to any harm if you leave it longer, but the meat will become ever-more tender and friable, not conducive to a nice slice. The joint will also have shrunk quite a bit. If you like your pork pulled rather than manicured, this matters not.

Strain the contents of the pot into a bowl or jug, retrieving the bones as advised, for instant gratification, or even a little appetiser for your patient guests.

Strain the cooking liquid through some kitchen paper into a small pan to defat the cooking juices and reduce these until it tastes right – if there is very little juice, add some wine to what there is and boil down until syrupy and concentrated. Finish with a couple of tablespoons of double cream whisked in until bubbling thickly. Pour into a warmed sauce-boat and bring to the table with the pork.

I serve this with roasted Savoy cabbage and baby potatoes with their skins on.

Janet Wynne Evans

Categories : Wine Without Fuss


  1. William Middleton-Smith says:

    Love your recipes as a rule, but 60 grams of pork fillet to feed 4 in the Anna del Conte one is verging on a vegetarian meal – doesn’t sound like you (or me): should this perhaps read 600 grams?

    Alas no Ibérico pork to be had (so far) in Godalming but I shall try this with local free-range rare-breed cross meat.

    • Janet Wynne Evans says:

      Well spotted, Mr Middleton-Smith! We’d like to say we rationed the meat in honour of World Vegetarian Day, but it was just a careless typo by yours truly, and thanks for pointing it out.

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