Tenderloin is the most-searched for pork cut, probably because it’s the leanest pork cut. But this also means it’s difficult to cook. While pork shoulder can stay in the oven for an hour longer than intended and still be delicious (honestly, maybe even better), pork tenderloin goes from just-right to chalky-dry in a matter of minutes. A wet brine is an easy way to avoid this. While salt plus water is classic, there’s nothing stopping you from swapping in feta liquid or pickle juice or, in this case, kimchi brine. This bonus ingredient is as bright in color as it is in flavor—equal parts spicy, salty, and funky. Diluting it with a bit of saltwater turns it into a workhorse brine for pork tenderloin. And since we’re already using the kimchi brine, we might as well use the kimchi, too. This gets sautéed then roasted alongside the pork—with chopped apples for some very welcome sweetness. Adding more kimchi brine to the skillet (with some butter for richness and gloss) yields a fuss-free sauce. This is perfect for bread-dunking, or polenta, or rice. It’s also additional insurance in case you do happen to leave the tenderloin in the oven too long. A quick note about the apples: Just about any variety works here. Your best bet is something on the sweeter side (since the rest of the dish is so savory), that holds up well when cooked. Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Jonagold are all great options. —Emma Laperruque
2 hours 30 minutes
3 to 4
Pork tenderloin and brine
1 to 1 1/2 pounds
Kimchi and apples
1 1/2 tablespoons
1 1/3 cups
roughly chopped kimchi (if your kimchi starts out in big pieces—get it closer to 1-inch chunks)
medium apples (about 12 ounces total), cored and cut into ¾-inch chunks
Brine the pork tenderloin: Add the water, kimchi brine, and salt to a bowl or plastic bag, and stir. Add the pork tenderloin, making sure it’s fully submerged. Cover or close up. Brine in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 12.
When the pork is done brining, remove it from the liquid and dry it off. Heat the oven to 400°F.
Set a large cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the canola oil and swirl around until shiny. Carefully add the pork tenderloin—it will spatter a bit; if you have to curve the tenderloin to fit in the pan, that’s a-okay. Brown it on all sides, about 6 minutes total, turning as needed. Now add the kimchi and apples, evenly distributing on either side of the tenderloin. Pour the kimchi brine on top of the kimchi and apples, then sprinkle with butter pieces. Get the skillet in the hot oven.
Roast the pork tenderloin and fixings for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the middle of the pork registers 140° to 145° (a little pink in the center is good—that means it’s not dried out). Flip the meat halfway through and give the kimchi and apples a quick stir, so everyone cooks evenly.
When the meat is done, let it rest in the hot skillet for a few minutes, then transfer to a carving board and slice. Nestle the slices on top of the kimchi and apples and serve hot.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.