Iowa-style pork tenderloin sandwiches are AMAZING! These sinfully delicious, crunchy bits of piggy goodness were hard to resist when we went to Southeast Iowa and Northeast Missouri last week. And we ate more than we should have. Frankly, it was the perfect comfort food.
Not to be a “Debbie downer”, but Steve and I flew in to Iowa last Friday to attend my paternal grandmother’s funeral service in Kahoka, MO on Saturday. I say that not to introduce a sad topic, but to explain why comfort food kinda hit the spot for me. My cousins arranged the service. And it was simple and beautiful, suiting my grandma perfectly. She was 101 when she passed, so she lived a long and very full life. She was an incredibly special lady, and just the very best grandma.
After the service, we had a late lunch at nearby Steve’s Family Dining with some extended family. Who am I kidding? Everything in Kahoka is “nearby”. It has a population of just barely 2000 people. Regardless, I’m so glad we spent that time with family. Many there knew grandma and grandpa longer than we did. We enjoyed their stories and they seemed to enjoy ours. It was sweet, beautiful closure.
At the restaurant, Steve ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich. And, as is often the case, he shared some with me. We ALWAYS share our food in restaurants so that we get to taste a variety of things. It’s our thing. And apparently the pork tenderloin sandwich became our thing too, because it was not the only one we had before coming home.
These sandwiches are addictive. So obviously, I had to try my hand at making them. And I was VERY pleased with the results. However, I’ve been trying to redeem my behavior in the Midwest by being very focused on healthy eating. So as not to undo those efforts, I called Sam over for lunch to take this pork tenderloin sandwich off my hands. He was happy to oblige. Sam pronounced the pork tenderloin sandwich REALLY good, and commended me on nailing the “crunch” factor. He enjoyed the fries, too.
Let’s Make the Iowa-Style Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
You’ll need some oil too, for deep-frying. And a bit of butter (optional) to toast the buns.
According to what I have read, pork tenderloin sandwiches are popular throughout the Midwest, and may have originated in Indiana. They remind you of a wiener schnitzel, except that they are:
- made exclusively from the pork tenderloin
- deep fried, not pan fried
- eaten in a bun
- served with onions, pickles, and mustard
- pounded to amazingly thin cutlets that often extend way beyond the edges of the buns
As a matter of fact, a “large” pork tenderloin sandwich (which is what my cousin Tim ordered at the restaurant in Kahoka), uses a normal-sized bun surrounding a pork cutlet the size of a dinner plate! Since I knew Sam would not want that much food so soon after getting up today (remember, he works nights), I cut him some slack and made him a small half portion.
It is very important to trim the pork tenderloin, removing all the fat and sliver skin.
Then cut it into 4 equal-weight portions.
Butterfly the portions by cutting 3/4 of the way through each portion (I use an arrow to show the butterflied piece).
Cover the butterflied portion with plastic wrap and pound that baby until you have a VERY thin cutlet. I mean REALLY thin! Like 1/8-inch or less. The meat actually starts to look a bit see-through.
Of course, that will leave you with the dinner plate-sized cutlet I mentioned before. If that’s too much for you, cut the cutlet in half.
Season the flour with the seasoned salt. I just used your tried-and-true Lawry’s Seasoned salt.
First dredge both sides of the piece of pork in the seasoned flour. Shake off the excess, then coat both sides with the buttermilk. Allow excess buttermilk to drip off, then dredge the pork in the saltine crumbs. Press gently to make sure all sides are thoroughly coated. No meat should be exposed.
Then deep fry that baby in 350° F oil. It will take about 4-5 minutes, depending on how thick or thin your cutlet is.
Flip 2/3 of the way through to get even crispiness on both sides.
Then lift the cutlet out of the oil and let it drain well before transferring it to a paper-lined dish to finish draining.
Meanwhile, in a very hot pan with just a hint of butter (optional), toast the insides of the two halves of the bun.
Then drop that crispy, porky goodness onto the bun. Serve the Iowa-style pork tenderloin sandwiches with slivered onions, oval dill pickle slices, and yellow mustard. To be traditional, that is.
I’ve seen recipes calling for ketchup and tomato too, but that just does not suit me. Of course, if it suits you, go for it! I will never disparage or stand in the way of someone’s sandwich desires.
I got that sucker nice and thin, huh, folks? Look at that wafer of crispy crunch!
Yeah, so Sam did eat this one with the fries. But in the interest of quality control, before making this one, I did deep-fry a small pork tenderloin cutlet. And dressed it exactly the same. And… yes, I consumed it. Very happily. Guiltily, but happily. Not as much guilt as I should have felt, and way more happiness than what I am willing to ‘fess up to.
Sam was right. I nailed the crunch factor.
- 1 pork tenderloin (1 to 1-1/2 pound) trimmed of fat and silver skin
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 sleeves saltine crackers, processed to crumbs
- 1 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons Lawry's Seasoned Salt
- 4-8 tablespoons slivered sweet onions
- 16-32 oval dill pickle slices (see notes)
- Mustard, to taste
- Oil for deep frying (quantity varies by frying vessel)
- 4-8 large hamburger buns (see notes)
- Butter (optional, for toasting buns)
- Pre-heat enough oil for deep-frying to 350° F in either a deep fryer or a heavy pan.
- Cut the trimmed pork tenderloin into 4 equal-weight portions.
- Butterfly a portion by cutting it ¾ of the way through.
- Cover with plastic wrap and pound with a steel mallet until ⅛-inch thick or thinner. Meat may start to look transparent.
- Repeat with remaining tenderloin portions.
- Season the flour with the seasoned salt.
- Dredge both sides of a piece of pork in the seasoned flour.
- Shake off the excess, then coat both sides with the buttermilk.
- Allow excess buttermilk to drip off, then dredge the pork in the saltine crumbs.
- Press gently to coat all sides thoroughly. No meat should be exposed.
- Repeat with remaining cutlets.
- Fry until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes, flipping once about ⅔ of the way through.
- Lift the cutlet out of the oil and allow to drain, then transfer to a paper-lined dish to continue draining.
- Repeat with the remaining cutlets.
- Heat a large frying pan to very hot.
- Toast the insides of the buns in the pan, adding a little bit of butter, if desired.
- Assemble the pork tenderloin sandwiches, garnish with slivered onions, pickles, and mustard.