Ask anyone who's spent significant time in Indiana what the state dish is and there's a good chance they'll tell you it's the breaded tenderloin, a sandwich that is ubiquitous throughout Indiana's myriad roadside eating establishments. You can get them at steakhouses, Dairy Queens, gas stations, diners, and of course any rural mom and pop shop worth its salt. I know this because I asked my friend Knuckles, born and raised Hoosier, and he responded quickly with the sandwich and a link to Jensen Rufe's absolutely gripping documentary entitled In Search of the Famous Hoosier Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, a 12-minute primer that succinctly lays down the long and short of all things breaded tenderloin. After watching that, I immersed myself in three days of exhaustive research combined with several hours of preparing the sandwich at home. This is what I now know:
- There are two schools of thought on what the size of the pork portion of the sandwich should be: "elephant ear style," or pounded out to an almost comical super schnitzel plate-sized area, and "meaty style" which is a thicker cut with less surface area that still absolutely must overlap and spill out over the bun. I've opted to prepare the meatier style because Mr. Dave, a highly decorated purveyor of the sandwiches and owner of Mr. Dave's Restaurant in North Manchester, Indiana, advises as much. My version is ultimately informed by Mr Dave's representation of the sandwich in the aforementioned documentary.
- Nothing gets you ready for football quite like pounding meat with a hammer.
- If someone calls it a "breaded pork tenderloin sandwich" then they are probably from Iowa or Illinois. Hoosiers simply refer to them as "breaded tenderloins."
- There is no right or wrong combination of fixins; it's all up to you. I prepared mine with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayonnaise. Sky's the limit here.
- Marinating overnight in buttermilk is the secret to a good tender cut of meat.
- They are frickin' delicious. Let's make some.
Breaded Tenderloin Sandwich
Ingredients (makes 2 sandwiches):
-Two center cut pork loin chops, about 1/2 lb each.
-2 hamburger buns
-1 cup flour
-2 cups buttermilk (I simulated buttermilk by using 2 cups whole milk + juice of half of a lime)
-1 sleeve of saltine crackers (you can use panko or Ritz crackers as well)
-3 smashed garlic cloves
-pinch of cayenne pepper
-salt and pepper to taste
-Peanut oil for frying
-Fixins (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mustard, ketchup, etc)
First things first. We will be marinating the pork, so this is taking place the night before. You could get by with doing it in the morning for 3 or 4 hours. Either way allow some time before eating. Take out your pork chops and survey for fat.
Trim the fat and butterfly the pork chops by slicing lengthwise through the side almost all they way through the middle, so that you can open it up like a book.
Get medieval. I have a meat hammer and I couldn't decide whether or not to use the spiky part or the flat and smooth part. Mr. Dave puts his through a cuber which might be better simulated by using the spiky part.
Flatten the tenderloins out to about a quarter inch thickness. Keep in mind you can do these MUCH flatter, it's up to you. I think if you get quality pork, you'll want a lower breading-to-meat ratio, which seems to be best accomplished by maintaining some thickness in the pork. I acknowledge, however, that part of the fun might be derived from seeing how tiny you can make your bun look compared to the tenderloin.
Whisk together two eggs, the buttermilk, the garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Drop the loins in, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
As you can see I've anticipated the fried food fest and stocked up on fresh fruit to counterbalance. Not pictured: me throwing out moldy shriveled up berries next week. Just kidding I love fruit and I will probably fry those strawberries up with the leftover batter.
When it is time to finally prepare the sandwiches after you've endured a long, sleepless night thinking about breaded tenderloins and football, start heating up your oil. A deep fryer of course would be the preferred apparatus, but I don't have one of those, so I'm using a reasonably deep skillet and covering it with about enough oil to submerge half of the tenderloin. You'll want to heat the oil until it gets to 350. Monitor your temp closely; I'm pretty sure this is a fire hazard and primarily why people fry turkeys outside. If you're a wild filthy animal with rabies that does what he wants when he wants in the kitchen, then proceed.
Saltines. In retrospect, panko might have been a better choice here, but I wanted to keep it pretty traditional.
Crush the saltines up in a freezer bag as finely as you can. You can also pulse them in a food processor if you are not into destroying things with your bare hands.
While the oil is heating, prepare your breading station. Take the bowl of marinating pork out and set it between your flour and your cracker crumbs.
What's that? The temp is reading between 350 and 360? Perfect. Time to bread and fry. Tip: You can bread the pork ahead of time and set it in the fridge for an hour or so. This will help the batter stick to the tenderloin.
First you take a tenderloin out of the marinade and coat it with the flour. I'm using tongs here because I have a camera in my other hand. I think you should use your hands and get messy and thorough. After the flour treatment, put back in the buttermilk marinade. Then take it out and cover it with the cracker crumbs.
Time to fry. Slowly lower the breaded tenderloin into the oil. Do this for about 2.5 minutes a side or until golden brown.
UPDATE: Now with frygif!
Remove from the oil and let it rest and drain on some paper towels.
Fix the fixins.
Assemble the sandwich. Full disclosure: my buns were too big and made the tenderloins look tiny. There's just not enough overlap going on in this picture and I apologize for that. I can assure you, however, that this was a beast of a sandwich that tasted absolutely amazing. I can't wait to go back to Indiana and have the real deal.