It’s the most wonderful time of the year: The Month of May in Indianapolis. While there’s much more to Indy than The Race, for those of us who live here– the excitement is ingrained into our very being every time the calendar flips from April to May. The checkered flags stuck in every flower pot in town, the parade, the weird sudden affinity for milk chugged out of glass bottles, it’s everywhere. Just the idea of spending the day at the track with good friends and cold beer watching cars whip around the track at 230mph gives me goosebumps. Even if you don’t like auto-racing, you can’t help but be wooed by the Indy 500’s tradition, the crowd and of course….the food.
The fabled Pork Tenderloin sandwich is just as much an Indiana tradition as the Indianapolis 500 itself. For those outside of the Midwest, you might look at this sandwich with its tiny cheap bun and it’s oversized breaded cutlet and cock your head to the side somewhat puzzled, trying to figure out why exactly it is the way it is, but let us assure you– please don’t overthink it. It’s perfect the way it is.
There’s an unspoken competition among restaurants throughout the state for best tenderloin, and you’ll find one on just about every bar menu in town. Looking for the best? There’s even a documentary (a hilarious and insightful 12 minutes of your life should you choose to watch). I’m pretty certain we even had them on our elementary school lunch menu, that’s how much Hoosiers love this damn sandwich.
I decided to tackle one at home because after eating an embarrassing amount of these over the course of my life, I feel like I finally know what I’m looking for in the sandwich:
- An oversized (duh) cutlet but not TOO big. It’s good for a show in a restaurant to have a plate-sized piece of pork, but I do like to get to the bun and toppings after a few bites.
- Breaded/fried (not batter dipped)
- Pounded out thin, but not too thin. I wanted to actually taste the pork WITH the breading.
As far as frying-food-at-home, this is an easy project. The pork is so thin that by the time the cutlet has turned your preferred shade of golden brown in the oil, the pork will be cooked through, and all the ingredients are pantry staples. While I will continue my quest throughout the state trying these sandwiches, having an easy home recipe in my back pocket is nice knowing I can have it any time I want, no matter what month it is.
Race Day Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
Makes 4-6 sandwiches | Inspired by 32 years of eating
1 3-4 lb center cut pork loin, trimmed of fat and cut crosswise into 1 inch thick slices (you could also buy thin center cut loin chops at the butcher/grocery store and pound those out instead of buying a whole roast)
1 qt buttermilk
1 C corn meal
1 C panko bread crumbs
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1 Tb kosher salt
1.5 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Frying oil of your preference (Canola, Vegetable, Peanut, or just go whole hog (get it?) and use lard)
Step 1 Prep the Pork: A few hours before you are ready to make dinner: Take the 1 inch slabs of pork and place between plastic wrap. Pound with meat mallet until approx 8ish inches across. Once the tenderloins are pounded out, place in a shallow baking dish and cover with buttermilk. The buttermilk will tenderize the pork and make for a nice juicy cutlet. Marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 4.
Step 2: Prep the breading: As the pork is taking a buttermilk bath, prepare the breading. Measure out the corn meal, bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt, pepper and Old Bay into a shallow pie pan or baking dish. Stir with a fork to combine.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to fry: preheat your oven to 200F. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a shallow straight sided pan until it reaches 350F. I prefer to use a large cast iron skillet with just a 1/2 inch of oil, but you could also heat more oil to truly submerge/deep fry in a Dutch Oven, or countertop fryer.
Using tongs, pull the pork out of the buttermilk and let drain slightly– place on plate. Whisk egg into buttermilk until thoroughly combined and get ready to bread. Dip the pork back into the now eggy buttermilk mixture, let drain slightly and then place into pan with breadcrumb mixture. Use your hands and make sure that all the breading is adhering to the pork.
Step 3: Fry Fry Fry: Ensure your oil is ready and the correct temperature and lay 1 to 2 pork cutlets into the oil gently (laying it down away from your body). Fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, adjusting the heat as needed. If you would like to temp the pork, cook until it registers at least 140F on an instant read thermometer– but I assure you once your breading is browned, that thin pork will be cooked through.
Remove pork from oil and let drain on a paper towel lined plate for a few minutes. If making more than 2 sandwiches, place pork on wire rack set in sheet pan and place in warm oven while you continue frying.
Place pork on cheap hamburger bun with preferred toppings (I like lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and mustard!). Serve with ice cold beer.