Apple Cider-Brined Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Deglazing Sauce

Apple Cider-Brined Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Deglazing Sauce

I almost never cook pork these days without brining it first. The difference in the finished texture and even the flavor is dramatic. Brined pork is fork tender and juicy, no matter how lean the cut, and evenly seasoned all the way through.

To brine pork (or chicken), you simply cover the pork with 1 tablespoon fine sea salt and 1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 1 quart of ice cold water and let it macerate for at least 6 hours in the coldest part of the refrigerator. I typically frig it for much longer, occasionally up to 3 days, with no ill effect. I always add spices and herbs to the brine as well, which are then magically transported into the meat at the perfect subtle level. You can experiment with whole pepper, rosemary, bay leaf, allspice berries, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, juniper berries, orange peel, or garlic.

With a large bunch of rhubarb from Portland Farmers Market and a couple of pork tenderloins from City Market on hand, I was about to pour a standard salt-sugar-water brine over the pork when Maui Jim said, “Wait, we have apple cider. Why not brine the pork in that?” Eureka! And this from a guy who can barely make his way around the kitchen, except at breakfast, when he magically seems to know exactly what he is doing.

Rockridge Orchards Spiced Apple Cider

I am now in love with this apple cider brine. You can actually taste the apple flavor in the meat. With just a hint of cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, this pork tenderloin is incredibly delicious.

We had it for dinner tonight with the following irresistable rhubarb sauce, served over a bed of lightly braised (with a little chicken stock, olive oil and garlic) Brussels sprouts raab.

Tomorrow, we will slice it thinly (lots left over) and pile it into a couple of Pearl Bakery baguettes with a little aioli and Earth and Vine’s Tangerine Habanero Mustard.

MauiJim is very proud of himself.

Northwest Field Rhubarb from Portland Farmers Market

Apple Cider-Brined Tenderloin of Pork with Rhubarb Deglazing Sauce

The sweet flavor of pork has a natural affinity with acidic fruit flavors, as in this rhubarb-cider sauce, and also with spices, such as allspice and cloves, which are used here in an apple cider brine.

The key to this dish is in not overcooking the pork; it should be nicely rosy in the center, very juicy and tender. And yes, it is quite safe to eat it this way and so much preferable to the dried-out, stringy stuff we are so often served in the name of pork.

2 whole pork tenderloins (preferably about 9 ounces each and 9-inches long)

Apple Cider Brine
2 cups apple cider
1 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoons sugar
½ cinnamon stick, broken
1 teaspoon whole allspice
½ teaspoon whole cloves

2 cups trimmed, diced rhubarb
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup low-salt chicken stock
1 cup apple cider

Sauté & Deglaze
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cold pressed olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup low-salt chicken stock
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
sugar, to taste

  1. Trim all fat from the tenderloins and reserve.
  2. To brine the pork, in a mixing bowl, combine the brine ingredients, and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve.
  3. Place the tenderloins in a glass baking dish and pour the brine over them.
  4. Seal tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. Rotate the tenderloins once or twice while brining.
  5. To make the sauce, in a small saucepan, combine the rhubarb and brown sugar, and let sit for 1 hour.
  6. Add 1 cup chicken stock and apple cider. Cook until rhubarb is actually disintegrating. Into a large measuring glass measuring cup, strain the sauce, pushing against the solids to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Reserve.
  7. Remove tenderloins from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
  8. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and olive oil. Lay the tenderloins in the pan and brown deeply on all sides. (It’s fine to cut the tenderloins if they are too long for the pan.) This process usually requires about 8-10 minutes. Do this quickly so that the pork doesn’t cook all the way through.
  9. Drain the fat from the saute pan, and add the vinegar and ½ cup stock to the pan to deglaze.
  10. Cover the pan and braise slowly (just a bubble on the surface) until the internal temperature of the pork reads 145 degrees, about 12-18 minutes. (Pork is judged safe to eat at 137 degrees, but it is advisable to cook it somewhat beyond this point to be sure.)
  11. When the pork is done, remove from the pan and keep warm for a few minutes.
  12. Raise the heat and add the rhubarb sauce.
  13. Whisk and cook until thickened; the sauce should just coat a wooden spoon. (If desired, you can make a slurry with a teaspoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon of stock and use it to thicken the sauce slightly.)
  14. Taste and then carefully season the sauce with salt, pepper, and additional sugar if needed.
  15. Strain sauce into a small saucepan. Keep warm.
  16. Cut the tenderloin into 3/4-inch medallions, arrange on one side of four individual warmed serving plates and pour the sauce under and around.
  17. If desired, serve with a quick braise of rapini or baby vegetables, such as turnips, parsnips, and carrots.
Serves 4.

More LunaCafe Pork Recipes

More LunaCafe Rhubarb Recipes 

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  1. says

    As one who grew up in a house where pork was never on the menu (although we weren’t kosher, I think my mom just felt uncomfortable with pork, though she cooked bacon), I’v had to learn it from cookbooks and pros like you Susan. the first lesson I’ve finally learned is that pork shouldn’t be cooked into total whiteness – great to have a tinge of red in the center. I bought an instant read thermometer and now I just stick that baby into the pork tenderloin and all is well. Love the idea of brining a pork tenderloin. Definitely going to have to try it. I’ve done pork chops with apple cider and they were delicious, so I bet this brine is amazing.
    Laura recently posted…Retro Date-Nut BreadMy Profile

    • says

      Laura, thank you! :-) When I was a kid, we cooked pork to death, but it was always tender nonetheless. It seems that something changed in the way pork is now raised, because overcooking pork today spells disaster. I notice in the supermarket that a lot of pork is now prebrined for tenderness. But I prefer to buy is “au natural” and brine or salt cure it myself. So many opportunities for creative flavor pairings this way.

  2. says

    OK I admit I just spent some time trying to decide who Maui Jim was. I mean, not that it matters, but I wanted to comment that I fervently wish my husband magically understood the kitchen in the morning. Having to make my own breakfast when I am half awake is why I rarely eat what is potentially my favorite meal of the day. But then I thought what if he is not her husband lol?….

    Anyhoo. Weirdly I have never brined anything. Possibly because I hate turkey and most other things can turn out plenty moist with careful handling. But this rhubarb sauce? OMG. Also–my favorite marinade is soy sauce and sugar based so maybe I brine without realizing it. LOL that just occurred to me. I am going to stop rambling now!
    Laura recently posted…Carmelitas ReduxMy Profile

    • says

      Laura, LOL! Yes, MauiJim is James Bradley, beloved husband, breakfast cook supreme, and LunaCafe cohort. :-) Trust me on this brining business. It’s not just the tenderness but the opportunity to drive flavor into every cell of the meat. The apple cider brine infuses the pork with the most amazing flavor. Surprising and totally irresistible.

  3. says

    Oh, where to begin?? I so enjoyed seeing a photo of fresh rhubarb; you almost have me believing that spring might be arriving here soon. Your pork looks cooked PERFECTLY and the brine sounds divine. It’s times like these I wish you were my next-door-neighbor so I could coincidentally pop in around dinner time :)
    kristy recently posted…Jose Peppers Espinaca Dip RecipeMy Profile

  4. says

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    • sms bradley says

      Thank you, Don! Fresh rhubarb is only weeks away. I love this dish and will be making it myself as soon as I see those ruby red stalks at the farmers market. :-)

    • sms bradley says

      Thank you! :-) The cider used here is fresh cider, rsther than hard (alcoholic) cider, and it is naturally sweet with no sugar added. The slight sweetness permeates the pork and creates a wonderful effect. If you can’t find fresh apple cider, a premium quality apple juice with no sugar added will work here.

  5. radar says

    My pork is in the brine and now you post straw and hay–this girl never met a pasta she didn’t like and now you do this–I am doomed for sure! No wild mushrooms to be had here tho.

    • smsb says

      Hi Radar! No wild mushrooms? Not to worry. Hydrate an ounce or so of dried porcinis, then drain and add to a saute of cultivated mushrooms (preferably crimini). Oh heck, this dish is delectable even with regular cultivated mushrooms. I’m like you: Never met a pasta dish I didn’t like. :-)


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