Pork Tenderloin Javanese is a quick-cooking coriander-scented mock kebab, simple enough for a weeknight but hearty enough for weekend grilling. If you’re looking for traditional Indonesian food you’ll be disappointed. Pork tenderloin isn’t especially popular among the people of Java, which is predominantly Muslim. But while the pork is certainly a Western adaptation, the recipe has whispers of authenticity to it. The marinade calls for grated Brazil nuts, an odd ingredient for typical kebabs, but probably a supermarket proxy for the Asian candle nut. The recipe overall is clearly a Western invention, but I suspect there’s at least a half-remembered traditional preparation in there somewhere.
The recipe is adapted from The New St. Louis Symphony of Cooking, a cookbook compiled by the St. Louis Symphony in the mid-1960s and published continuously for nearly twenty years. For a 1960s era community cookbook Symphony of Cooking is delightfully snooty, playing perhaps to the refined tastes of the symphony set. In an era defined by casseroles and convenience, Symphony of Cooking focuses on fresh ingredients and simple preparation. There are still plenty of recipes here for the budget-conscious homemaker, but expect flavor profiles a little more daring than your typical 1960s cookbook.
Pork tenderloin is maybe the first cut of meat that I learned to cook properly. My first real effort to learn to cook came at a time when meat wasn’t exactly in the budget. We made do with a lot of legumes, cheap bacon, and ground meat. I knew how to slow-cook a cheap roast so it was fall apart tender, but I was deathly afraid of undercooking meat. On the few occasions I’d spring for a steak or a pork chop they’d come out like leather. But pork tenderloin changed me. It was cheap enough that I felt comfortable making mistakes, and after a little bit of trial and error I had my method: Trim the silver skin. Salt, pepper, rosemary, and a little bit of olive oil. 25 minutes in the oven at 475º F or 5 minutes per side on a hot grill. Perfect every time, and even better once I invested in a meat thermometer. I’ve more recently been converted to cooking pork tenderloin in thick medallions. It still feels like a waste to cut them thin and pound them flat, but a thick slice of tenderloin – around 1½-2 inches – fries up quick and stays tender in the middle. All the good tender and juicy stuff I like from full tenderloins but with more surface area for the tasty crust.
Which is how I’ve adapted Pork Tenderloin Javanese. The original recipe calls for tenderloin cut into 1-inch cubes, which is a surefire recipe for dry pork. This may have been necessary to properly cook 1960s-era pork, which was fattier and germier than what we’ve got nowadays. Today’s pork is much leaner and trichinosis is no longer a significant concern, meaning that we can consider pork “fully cooked” at temperatures where it’s still juicy. Even with the thicker cut there’s sufficient cooking time to get to a safe-but-not-shoe-leathery 145º F. I’ve also leveled up the crushed red pepper but otherwise kept things intact.
And this is a recipe I’ll certainly be making again. Despite the name, Pork Tenderloin Javanese has a distinctly Mediterranean vibe driven by sweet onion and citrus. You could lean into this sensibility and serve with yogurt or tzatziki, but the marinade is thick enough to act as its own sauce. Serve with saffron rice or couscous and a steamed green vegetable, or go full American and serve with boiled potatoes and peas. Pork Tenderloin Javanese is delicious and versatile. Enjoy!
- 4 lbs pork tenderloin (silver skin removed)
For the marinade:
- Slice the pork tenderloin into large chunks about 1½ to 2 inches thick.
- Combine marinade ingredients in a food processor. Combine until mixture is smooth and onions are pulverized. Combine with tenderloin, taking care to coat all sides, and store in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.
- Prepare a medium-hot charcoal grill (about 450º F). Place pork slices directly on the grates and grill 5 minutes. Spoon marinade over top, then flip and grill 4-5 minutes more until pork reaches 145º F internal temperature.
- Heat the broiler to high. Place pork slices on a broiler pan and arrange so the top of the pork is 2-3 inches from the heating element. Broil 5 minutes. Spoon marinade over top, then flip and broil 4-5 minutes more until pork reaches 145º F internal temperature.
An alternative version of this recipe can be found here.