I’m pretty close to being a vegetarian. I don’t eat that much meat, just the occasional piece of chicken or salmon fillet, and I’m perfectly content getting my protein from beans, milk, and yogurt. I could never go vegan—I enjoy cheese too much! But vegetarian… I think I could handle that.
I have a secret. Cooking meat intimidates me. Really intimidates me. What happens if I overcook the meat? Or undercook it? Or don’t let it rest long enough? Or choose a bad cut of meat so I’m doomed from the start? Or… Or… Or…
Chicken is so easy because I can chop it into small pieces and put it in a pan on the stovetop, where I can watch as it turns a golden brown on the outside and know that the pink disappeared from the inside. I’ve never cooked chicken in the stove. Why fix something that isn’t broken?
So before I made the vegetarian verdict, I decided it was time to face my (irrational) fears and pick a new meat to cook, one that required going in the oven. I chose a pork tenderloin, mainly because it’s small enough that (a) I wouldn’t have leftovers for 8 days straight and (b) it isn’t so thick that it’d take 4 hours to cook. And, perfect timing, the grocery store had a sale on pre-marinated pork tenderloins! They’re probably not as good as doing it myself, but the fewer things I could screw up, the better.
Back at home, I pre-heated the oven, peeled open the package, and plopped the thing into a pan. It really didn’t look all that appetizing, but it was already out of the package, and there wasn’t anywhere else to put it but in the oven. (Vegetables are so much prettier; they actually have a color other than brown!) The directions said 25-30 minutes, so I set my timer and walked away. Part I, done.
Beep, beep, beep! Into the kitchen I went to check on my adventure. The meat thermometer barely registered 115°, not exactly the greatest sign since safe pork temperatures are 145-160°, so back into the oven it went. At this point, I was turning apprehensive. I was no longer following the package’s directions—I was cooking it too long! What if it was overdone? What if it started smoking? What if, what if, what if?
After another 5-10 minutes, I bravely took the pork out to stab it with the thermometer again. Juices seeped out of the pig, but the temperature was over 145°—safe! So I walked away again. Part II, done.
I felt slightly better about the last few steps. Letting it rest, now that was easy! And as long as the juices didn’t spurt out and squirt me in the eye while I carved the thing, I was going to be okay. So there I was, knife in hand, cutting small medallions off of one end, when it hit me—I cooked my first meat dish! All by myself!
But not so fast… The insides were perfectly tinted pink, the outsides weren’t burned at all, and I hadn’t hyperventilated or passed out. Yet the tenderloin still hadn’t passed the taste test. Gulp. Here went nothing…
Fork, knife, slice, cut. Stab bite, stick in mouth. Chew, chew, swallow.
Smile. Grin. Laugh! I did it! I really, truly did it! It was juicy, succulent, flavorful, tender, everything a good pork tenderloin should be. And even though that tenderloin is supposed to feed 4 people, it’s half gone already, it was just that good.
Bottom line? I can’t be a vegetarian. I’m sorry. I know and admire all those who are, whether for moral, ethnic, or religious reasons, but I realized even though I make and serve less meats than desserts, it’s still a delicious treat I can’t give up.
And now I’m bravely entering the meat market for more adventures! Any ideas on what to try next?