A Taste Of Indianapolis At Home
The entire time that I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve always tried to write about subjects that are at least remotely related to IndyCar racing. I’ve kept that promise today, although today’s topic is admittedly only loosely related to motorsports. Today is a first, as this post will be a joint effort between me at the beginning and then followed by my wife Susan. However, I don’t think it is in danger of being picked up by the Food Network and it is ultimately about the Indianapolis 500, so bear with us.
Part of the thrill to going to Indianapolis each May is in the culinary delights we sample each year. I’m not referring to some pretentious over-priced restaurant in Keystone at the Crossing, serving small portions of gourmet fare that only a yuppie could appreciate. No, I’m talking about the staples of every May found at Charlie Brown’s, The Mug-N-Bun and Dawson’s on Main – to name just a few. Along with a few select concession stands at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the one item that all of these establishments serve is the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich simply referred to as “a tenderloin”.
Before I offend residents of central Indiana, I’ll acknowledge that there are excellent tenderloins to be found outside of the Town of Speedway. I’ve been told by more than one person that Edwards on the east side makes a mean tenderloin. But since I’m an outsider, the ones in or near the track are the only ones I’ve sampled. To be honest, I think the ones served at IMS taste better than any of the others I’ve tried, but my taste buds could be misled by my surroundings. After all, anything tastes better with the historic oval right in front of you.
The south is known for a lot of tasty dishes, but no one I know here has ever even heard of a tenderloin. They think I’m speaking of a beef tenderloin. Granted, a filet mignon sandwich sounds pretty good, but for racing addicts – the real tenderloin is made of pork and is fried.
Over the years, I’ve come to crave the crispy seasoned goodness of a tenderloin sandwich that I only get to sample during the Month of May. There is nothing like that fried slab of meat hanging out of what appears to be a small bun. This year, I even inquired with an IMS employee that many of us know through Twitter (@IndyAndy52), if it was possible to order a case of the famous IMS tenderloins. He directed me to a wholesale website, but I couldn’t ever navigate it well enough to find what I was looking for.
My wife Susan is an excellent cook, who also loves a good challenge. I say she could be a serious contestant on Master Chef, but she disagrees. When I suggested she figure out how to cook a tenderloin sandwich worthy of being found inside I-465, she didn’t hesitate.
She bought what she needed last weekend in preparation for serving them Sunday night after the Mid-Ohio race. They were very good, but not great. The meat had been prepped perfectly but was just slightly undercooked. The breading was light, but needed a bit more seasoning and could have had a little more crunch. But the overall effort was good and I would have given them a B+.
As I mentioned, Susan is always up for a challenge. When I got home from work Monday afternoon, I had a nice surprise. The familiar smell of a tenderloin greeted me before I reached the top step in the garage. I opened the kitchen door to find Susan at the stove. She had made the fine-tuning needed from the night before. When they were ready, my mouth was already watering. What I tasted were perhaps the best tenderloin sandwiches I have ever eaten (yes, plural – I ate two). The meat was cooked perfectly, the seasoning was just right and she achieved just the right amount of crunchiness.
I don’t say this because she is my wife. If the tenderloins were just OK, I would thank her for the effort and enjoy them, but I certainly wouldn’t write a post about them. These were phenomenal. The first bite of the crunchy, seasoned over-sized pork patty brought back the sensation of the tenderloin I had on Opening Day at IMS back in May.
For the first time ever, Susan and I are doing a joint effort here. I have just set up the idea of having a tenderloin at home during any time of the year. Now Susan will take it from here and give step by step instructions of what she did to recreate a little bit of magic from the Month of May.
Now from Susan…
I don’t fry too often. Not that I have an aversion to fried food, it is simply too messy for me to deal with. But I was up for a challenge and I was missing a really good tenderloin. The ones at IMS are great, but I have worked in food service long enough to know that when you put something fried in a heated drawer, it tends to get a little dried out. I wanted to see what a fresh, hand-breaded tenderloin would taste like. I first began in search of the perfect ingredient list. I found it on the FoodNetwork.com web site. It is the recipe for the Hoosier Pork-Tenderloin Sandwich. I needed to know exactly what exotic ingredients I had to locate to get that perfect blend of spices that is key to the flavor. Here is the ingredient list. The only thing I had to go out and buy was the Buttermilk. And I could not find instant flour, so I used self-rising. It worked just fine.
2 pounds center-cut boneless pork loin
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 sleeves saltines (about 80 crackers)
2 cups instant flour (such as Wondra)
Peanut oil, for frying
First, I mixed the marinade. Which included the eggs, buttermilk, garlic, Kosher salt, and cayenne and put it into the refrigerator. Put all the ingredients into the buttermilk and whisk together—simple! Then comes the fun part—dealing with the tenderloin meat itself. The tenderloins I bought (at Costco) had a large “core” or tenderloin and a smaller one. I separated those and cut off the white tendons. The tendons will hold the meat together when you pound it out, and it will not come out as thin. I cut the large portion of the tenderloin across the grain into 4 equal parts. I then took each part and butterflied it with the grain, leaving about an inch in the center attached. I tried cutting down to ½ inch, but one of them separated into 2 parts.
Now comes the REALLY fun part. Take your mallet or meat tenderizer and beat them to within a ½ to ¼ inch of their lives. Some people prefer to put the meat between 2 layers of plastic wrap for this part—Saran Wrap is a bit thicker than the other brands—but I thought it made it more difficult for the meat to get really thin. Now I know how they can sometimes get this weird, really long shape. They ended up being around 4-5” wide by 9” long. I thought that would hang way too far over the bun, so I cut about 4” off one end. I’m going to use that part for tenderloin sliders.
Next you get some Tupperware or any kid of shallow, lidded pan. You simply pour enough of the marinade into the bottom of the pan, dish, whatever—and then place the flattened tenderloins in the marinade and put the rest of the marinade on top. I had to layer mine, so I just estimated how much to use on each layer. I have this great Tupperware meat marinator, and I simply flip it over halfway through the marination time. It is recommended to marinate for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator, you can do it overnight as well.
Put the saltine crackers into a food processor and pulse until you get really coarse crumbs—or if you are like me, you just put them into a ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin. I added a few twists of fresh-ground pepper to the cracker crumbs. Then put the crumbs into a shallow dish. Put the flour in a shallow dish as well. This is about the time I began heating the peanut oil. Heat 1/4 to 1/2 inch peanut oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 360. If you don’t have a thermometer—which I don’t’—I simply put a few drops of water into the oil and when it spatters, the oil is ready (stand back though!).
Take each piece of pork out of the marinade and let the excess drip off—set aside on a plate. Please take care to remove any of the large pieces of crushed garlic that may stick to the pork. Dredge each piece of pork (both sides) into the flour and dip into the marinade. Then coat the outside with the cracker crumbs. I didn’t want the crackers crumbs to fall off, so I put it into the heated oil instead of setting aside until all pieces for the pork were coated.
I was able to get about 3 tenderloins into my skillet at one time. Cook on each side until they are a little bit darker than golden brown (about 4-5 minutes).
Here is where a meat thermometer may come in handy, pork should be cooked until it is 170 degrees F. I couldn’t get a good reading on my thermometer, so I preheated my oven to 325 and put the tenderloins that were done cooking in the skillet onto a paper towel to drain and then put them on a baking sheet and let them “rest” there. I didn’t want them getting cold while the others were cooking. The first batch I made were a little bit pink and the oven helped them continue cooking.
We are “purists” we simply put them on a large bun and put mayo and a pickle or two on them, but you can use tomatoes, lettuce, whatever you like.
So now I can make my on tenderloins on race days, and I think it will become a tradition!