Peering back on the culinary landscape of my life, I find that my personal relationship with encased meat is sewn deeply into my memories of food. Picky beyond all belief as a child, hotdogs became THE protein in my diet – aside from perhaps the pepperonis that adorned my other true love, pizza. My father is a compulsive singer (a trait now solidly worked into my DNA as well), and in my early years I remember him walking through the house, belting out his wishes to be an Oscar Meyer wiener, assuring me that is what he’d truly like to be (we all know the song, right?). Not just a fan of hot dog jingles, my dad has had, and will continue to have grilled Italian sausages every single week until the day he bows out from this plane of existence.
Since those days as a wee lad, my tastes have grown exponentially, and that includes a voracious appetite for the world’s various encased meats; but, it was actually right at home in South Carolina that I discovered some of the best. I used to run food weekly demos at the city’s main farmers market, where I made friends with our local vendors who were producing their own artisanal encased meats. Packed with whole ingredients like shallots, jalapeños, cheddar cheese, and bacon, these local farmers truly opened my eyes to what a sausage could be.
Even though encased meats have their origins in the efficient use cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, I find myself inspired by the SC farmers and the gourmet touches they bring to their meat. So as the Foodseum prepares to crack open the doors on its first exhibit, I’ll be joining them in their celebration of encased meats with one of my most epic recipes ever. This month on The Test, we’ll push the bounds of encased meats to its very limit, as well as break down a few techniques to enhance your home butchery skills beyond the average Joe.
Cutting to the Heart of Encased Meat
So what is encased meat? Boiled down to its essence, we find ground meat, often seasoned with basic aromatics, all wrapped up in an edible casing (most often the intestinal lining of some lucky animal). Again, we find various sausages that made economical use of less popular cuts of meat, transforming them into something then embraced literally all over the world. And I think, more often than not, their pedestrian nature is reflected in the venues, like sausage carts and food trucks where such delicious treats are served.
All of which is perfect; I have a very soft spot in my heart for wolfing down cheddar wurst on a street corner, and sporting events are never complete without at least five hot dogs in my stomach. But what happens when we flip the script on the very nature of encased meat? My goal in chasing meat greatness was to start with ground pork seasoned with whole ingredients, in homage to my friends from the farmers market, then stuff the entire thing into a whole pork tenderloin. Not to knock the intestinal lining that normally encases our ground meat goodness, but it’s not exactly something you’d order on its own in a restaurant…right? However, because this recipe is meant to be a celebration of everything encased meat can achieve, I’d polish it off by enrobing the whole kit and caboodle in salty Italian prosciutto, simply because it sounds amazing.
I Love It When a Plan Comes Together
When stuffing pork tenderloin, one pitfall I often see is a filling that simply falls apart when the finished product is sliced on the carving board. To save our dinner from this terrible fate, I treated the pork filling like a meatloaf, adding a little egg for body and moisture, and some pulverized pita chips as a binder (breadcrumbs were nowhere to be found in the pantry). Desperately in need of bold flavors to enhance the pork, I essentially emptied the fridge and used anything that looked tasty; ingredients like hot or sweet peppers; bitter greens like arugula; aged, hard-block cheeses; and aromatics like onions and leeks are all great (and what my recipe will suggest), but use what you have on hand!
Preparing the pork tenderloin to be stuffed requires a little butchery skill, but it’s nothing that can’t be picked up quickly with a little instruction. Most notably, pork tenderloin will inevitably come into your kitchen with the shiny tendon known as silver skin still attached. It will never cook down and will hinder the cooking, so using a boning knife (or any knife with a thin, slender blade), simply poke your knife through just under the silver skin and run your knife through to the other end, removing it in one fluid motion, losing as little meat with it as possible. No need to trim any other fat you see, pork is already quite lean and any residual fat will help keep the cut stay moist as it cooks.
After trimming, the next task on the docket is to butterfly the tenderloin, essentially opening it like a magazine so that we can fill it with the seasoned pork mixture. Placing the pork on its side, run your knife down the length of the cut in smooth, even strokes; make sure each successive stroke of your knife is made on the seam that develops so that the tenderloin opens evenly. Be cautious in how far down your cuts go down as well; at no point do we want to poke a hole in the meat (although our prosciutto wrapper will act as insurance in case we do get a few tears).
Some people mistakenly stop at this point, which will be problematic for them, because there’s currently not enough surface area for any filling at this point, so we require a few more cuts. Lay your knife flush with the meat on one side of the middle, and carefully make another series of smooth slices, again following with the seam that forms. If our first cut was like opening a magazine, this second is like unfurling a centerfold; repeating the same cut on the other side of the tenderloin, we now have ample surface area for our sausage filling.
Depending on the size of your tenderloin, you may not need your entire filling. The tenderloin should be able to seal without any noticeable amount of ground pork sticking out; don’t fret, anything left over makes a fantastic meatball (so make extra filling on purpose). With the seam of the filled tenderloin facing up towards you, lay the slices of prosciutto so that their seam faces the bottom, making a reliable seal to hold in all of that flavor.
Most folks I see tying a pork tenderloin make a series of simple knots using short lengths of butcher’s twine, which tends to squeeze the filling into large clumps, throwing off the tenderloin’s ability to cook evenly. So it then falls upon me to teach you a variation on the butcher’s knot passed down to me in culinary school, made with a single length of twine, that hugs the cut of meat with even pressure, holding everything together without giving it a death grip.
Go ahead and give yourself a generous length of twine, probably more than you might think you need, and tie a simple knot at one end of the tenderloin. Easier than tying your shoes, right? Next, loop the twine around your wrist in an “O” shape, lift up the tenderloin at the tied end, and allow the looped twine to fall off your wrist and under the meat. Done correctly, pulling the twine taught should result in your first secured loop! Simply repeat the process down the length of the tenderloin, tying one last simple knot when you reach the other end.
With all that butchery done, a simple pan roast is all your tenderloin requires before you and your guests feast! Get an oven-safe, heavy-bottomed pan rocking hot, add oil that can take that heat (smell ya later, olive oil), then sear off your tenderloin on both sides. From that point, it will need to take a break from the direct heat of the stove, and finish in the more gentle, ambient heat of the oven. Normally I would never, ever tell anyone to cook pork anywhere close to well done, but our sausage filling needs a little extra heat so that it doesn’t have an off-texture. No worries, the prosciutto and a successfully executed pan-roast are there to make sure everything stays juicy!
As soon as the tenderloin leaves the oven and meets the cutting board, hit it with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce; it’s the original steak sauce, people! Resist slicing into the tenderloin immediately, because as it cooked, all the juices ran towards the center, so it needs time to rest and redistribute all that goodness throughout the meat. Impatience will result in losing your flavor to the cutting board, a fate I would never wish on any friend of mine!
Hopefully you’ll join me and the rest of the fine folks at the Foodseum in our on-going celebration, be it with my epic encased meat, a visit to our upcoming exhibit, or just enjoying a good old-fashioned dinner plate of sausages with the family (I’m sure my dad will continue to do so even after the exhibit). As always, take my recipe, but customize it to your will and make it your own, in your own salute to the future of meat!
Sausage-Stuffed Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Savory Arugula Salad
½ pound ground pork
1 medium leek, cleaned, halved, and sliced into half-moons
½ red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, diced
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, diced
¼ cup packed arugula leaves, minced, plus more to serve
4 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more to serve
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 medium pork tenderloin, silver skin removed and butterflied
3oz sliced prosciutto (about 7-8 slices), plus more to serve
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine pork, leeks, bell pepper, Serrano pepper, arugula, thyme, Parmesan, bread crumbs, and egg in a small bowl. Add a generous pinch of kosher salt and a few cracks of freshly ground black pepper. Mix well to combine, and set aside.
- Season the tenderloin on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread the pork filling across the butterflied tenderloin, being careful not to overfill. Roll the meat up and over the filling to seal.
- With the seam of the pork tenderloin facing up, lay strips of prosciutto across it, tucking them under the tenderloin so that their seam is on the bottom, creating a good seal.
- Taking a length of butchers twine, tie a butcher’s knot down the length of the tenderloin, securing with a simple knot at both ends.
- Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan over high heat; when hot, add enough canola oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil begins to shimmer, carefully lay the tied tenderloin into the pan.
- Sear over high heat until the prosciutto is crispy and golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven, and roast until the internal temperature registers 170 degrees.
- Remove the tenderloin from the oven, season with a few dashes of Worcestershire, and allow to rest for 3-5 on the carving board before slicing.
- Place a few handfuls of arugula in a medium bowl, and add torn prosciutto and some shaved Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil, add a few dashes of Worcestershire, toss to combine, and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- To serve, place the arugula salad on a serving platter. Remove the butcher’s twine, slice the tenderloin, lay slices on top of the salad, and top with additional prosciutto and Parmesan cheese.
Did you attempt this meaty behemouth? Send us your pictures for a chance to be featured. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #FeedYourCuriosity and tag @Foodseum!
Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, Milo Klos is relatively new to Chicago, but is already looking to leave his mark on the city’s food culture, eating as much as possible along the way. He received both his bachelor’s degree in creative writing and culinary certification from the University of South Carolina, and spent a couple of years teaching cooking classes in the SC-based Charleston Cooks classroom kitchen before making his move to Chicagoland. Here in the city, he works as a private culinary instructor as well as helping to teach cooking classes downtown at Sur La Table. Any bit of free time is usually spent styling food for his Instagram account (@chefagrams), or immersing himself in anything even remotely Batman related.