Pork Tenderloin "Ham" & Biscuits

This is perfect party food. Homemade ham is one of those things that you don't encounter all that often. People will be surprised. You'll look like one of those miracle-worker kitchen geniuses we all sometimes secretly hate. Everyone will say, "YOU made this?!" Won't that feel good?

Until this day, I have never encouraged people to make ham at home. Hams are made from the leg of the pig, a huge cut that's simply too big to manage for anything but a special occasion. More importantly, a homemade ham is a lot of work and often disappoints home cooks, since it rarely looks like the kind we're accustomed to eating from the store. What we want is that pink, juicy, smoky-sweet treat we remember eating as kids. What we get when we do it on our own is a brown grey, slightly dry hunk of meat that took up a lot of time and space in our fridge.

That's why I loved the idea of this recipe when I came across it in the New York Times. Usually, I hate pork tenderloin. I don't get why it's a popular cut- it's small, overpriced, and easy to overcook. But like this, as a ham! It's brilliant! It cures quickly, takes up way less space, and is so much more manageable. 

The one caveat for most people is that this recipe calls for pink salt, or curing salt. This mix of sodium nitrite and table salt is commonly used in the meat industry, but has lately come under scrutiny as people discovered that nitrites are suspected carcinogens. On the flip side, these salts protect cured meats from harmful pathogens, protect flavor, and fix the pink color of the meat. 

While you can certainly make the recipe without the curing salt, you'll find that your finished product is less appealing in color. The flavor suffers slightly, as well, but it's not a deal breaker. If you're very opposed to using nitrites, you can definitely still make this recipe! Personally, I opt to use the pink salt, knowing that I don't plan to fry the ham (a process which is suspected to enhance the carcinogenic properties), and I don't plan to eat excessive amounts of it. Also, nitrates are thought to be the actual carcinogens in this equation and Instacure #1- the pink salt I recommend that you use if you want to make this recipe- contains nitrites, not nitrates. 

So, if you opt to use the pink salt, a few rules:

  1. Buy instacure no. 1, which you can easily find online. Instacure #2 containes nitrates and is more suited for long term curing projects in which the nitrates will convert to nitrites. 
  2. Store the salt in a container labeled clearly DO NOT EAT. In houses with children, in particular, this product should be stored completely out of reach and out of sight, ideally with chemicals.
  3. Do not use the salt for anything other than established recipes. 
  4. Do not confuse the salt with Himalayan pink salt, which has become popular now and has a similar color and texture.  

Of course, you don't have to eat this ham with biscuits. You could slice it thinly and serve it on a cheese tray at a party, or cube it and toss it in with your eggs at brunch. You could make grilled cheese sandwiches with homemade ham! Really, the possibilities are endless. Even better, you can feel good knowing that you're not buying something that's been inhumanely handled, or processed in a big factory by underpaid laborers. 

As always, try to buy the best tenderloin that you can. I got mine from Devil's Gulch Ranch in Northern California, but humanely raised, heritage breed pork is becoming more and more available at farmer's markets and small-scale butcher shops. Look around, I'm sure you'll find some. When you do, be sure to trim off all the fat and the bit of tough silver skin at the top. The tenderloin should be evenly clean all over before you put it in the brine. 

Pork Tenderloin "Ham"

Adapted from "In the Charcuterie" by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller via the NY Times

Note: I only made one pork tenderloin. I quartered everything in the recipe with the exception of the white wine for cooking- I still used about 1/2 cup. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 cups boiling water
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp allspice berries
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon curing salt (pink salt)
  • 1 cup dry white wine for brine, plus 1/2 cup for cooking
  • 4 pork tenderloins, about 1 lb each
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme

Instructions:

  1. Put salt and sugar in a large nonreactive bowl (stainless steel or glass). Add peppercorns, mustard seeds, allspice berries, cloves, thyme, and bay leaves. Leave to cool completely. 
  2. Add curing salt and 1 cup white wine to cooled brine. Submerge pork tenderloins in brine. Place plate directly on top of pork to keep it submerged if necessary. (I put mine in a ziplock bag.) Cover container and refrigerate for 5 days. 
  3. Remove pork from brine and pat dry. Discard brine. Spread onions and thyme sprigs on bottom of a large shallow baking dish. Add brined tenderloins in one layer, then add 1/2 cup wine. Heat oven to 350 degrees; as it heats, bring meat to room temperature. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes or until pork registers 135 degrees. (Check at about 30 minutes, mine was already done.) Remove from oven (meat will continue to cook and reach 140 degrees as it rests). Let cool before cutting into thin slices. I found that mine tasted much better after I had refrigerated it for several hours. Serve with biscuits. May be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 1 week.

All-Purpose Biscuits

Adapted from Sam Sifton at the NY Times

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 scant tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, preferably European style
  • 1 cup whole milk
  1. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Transfer to a food processor. Cut butter into pats to add to flour, then pulse 5 or 6 times until mixture resembles rough crumbs. (Alternatively, cut butter into flour in the mixing bowl using a fork or a pastry cutter. This is what I did.) Return dough to bowl, add milk, and stir with a fork until it forms a rough ball. 
  2. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and pat it down into a rough rectangle, about 1 inch thick. Fold it over and gently pat it down again. Repeat. Cover the dough loosely with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for 30 minutes. (I rested mine in the fridge because it's quite hot in my house.)
  3. Gently pat out the dough some more, so that the rectangle is roughly 10 inches by 6 inches. Cut dough into biscuits using a floured glass or biscuit cutter. Do not twist cutter when cutting; this crimps the edges of the biscuit and impedes its rise. 
  4. Place biscuits on a cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, approximately 10-15 minutes.