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Famous as it may be in Iowa, where I assume it is very easy to be famous*, I first came to know and love the legendary pork tenderloin sandwich in a little diner in Collins, Missouri.
*my dude, I know I’m in Oklahoma, it’s a joke.
That restaurant, which my grandparents called C.A.’s and the sign out front called Smith’s Berry Farm, was known in my family for one thing and one thing only: Biscuits and gravy.
And while I am definitely interested in making some bacon/sausage/ham-based gravies for you in the semi-near future, that’s not what this is about.
Biscuits and gravy are great for breakfast, but when they’re all gone and Granny and Grampa wanted to go back to C.A.’s for lunch (why did they ever go home, actually?) you have to choose something else. Literally, you had to choose something else, because all the biscuits were gone.
And that is when I saw the pork tenderloin sandwich from across the room.
“What’s that?” I said, in what I can only assume looked like an ’80s bro raising his sunglasses to check out a woman in a bikini, seen below.
It reminded me of the Del Rancho Steak Sandwich Supreme, in that it was a large piece of fried meat being “held” by a normal-sized bun. And, if that makes it easier to understand for you, I hope you’ll also consider this a pork version of that famous/infamous sandwich.
If there’s a difference, other than the obvious change from cow to pig, it’s that pork tenderloin can be pounded so much thinner than steak, at least in my experience, which leads to a very crispy piece of meat that doesn’t spend as much time in the fryer.
Could you call this a schnitzel? Yes. I would allow that. Go ahead. Give it a try.
Go for it.
Okay, now that you’re done calling it a schnitzel, let’s talk about why this fried pork tenderloin sandwich is so good. While steak tastes like steak, and therefore a steak sandwich should taste like a sandwich made of steak, a pork tenderloin is an extremely mild cut of meat that is much more malleable, flavor-wise. Your seasoning blend can be simple—a little salt and pepper is a fine place to start—or elaborate. The meat is a canvas, waiting for you to paint flavor all over it.
Pork tenderloin also cooks crazy fast, which means you can create one of these in a jiffy.
Because I do not own a deep fryer and because a very nice reader/angel bought me an air fryer to play with, I decided to make these air-fried pork tenderloin sandwiches. That’s right! You can buy me things! I have no shame left!
j/k I’m still deeply ashamed of my body.
On to the recipe!
Air Fryer Fried Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches
1 lb. pork tenderloin
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup panko-style breadcrumbs
4 hamburger buns, or 8 pieces of bread if you just want to watch the world burn
Salt, fresh-cracked black pepper, whatever other spices you like
Non-stick cooking spray or, preferable, olive oil in a spritzer
Gallon-sized kitchen storage bag or plastic wrap
A shallow bowl
Air fryer (if you don’t have one, you can do this on a rack in a baking sheet in a convection oven)
1. Take your pork tenderloin and locate the silver skin that runs along the body. Using a paring knife, cut under the silver skin and then pull up on the end, continuing to scrape under the silver skin until it’s removed. Do you absolutely have to remove it? No. It’s not poisonous. But it will make your pork cutlets harder to eat, which seems bad.
2. Lay the pork tenderloin flat in front of you and cut horizontally until you have four equal chunks of meat. Put one of the chunks, cut side facing up, inside a gallon-sized Ziplock-style bag. Use the mallet to flatten the meat until it’s about a quarter-inch thick. Try not to pound any holes into the meat. Remove from bag and set aside, doing the same with the remaining chunks of tenderloin.
3. Season ’em up, however you see fit. As a good starting point, I recommend salt, pepper, and garlic powder, but go nuts.
4. Put the flour on one plate and the breadcrumbs on another. Crack both eggs into the bowl and whisk until roughly uniform. Season the eggs with more salt and pepper, while you’re at it.
5a. Dredge a piece of pork tenderloin in the flour, covering both sides, and shake off any excess. Then dip the pork in the egg wash, before moving it into the plate of breadcrumbs. It should be fully covered in breadcrumbs when you’re done. Repeat with remaining pieces of pork tenderloin.
5b. If you want to cut some corners, forgo the flour and egg and instead smear both sides of the pork tenderloin with mayonnaise before dipping it in breadcrumbs. Repeat with remaining pieces of pork tenderloin.
6. Spray the breadcrumb-covered piece of pork with a spritz of olive oil or spray using non-stick cooking spray. Place the pork tenderloin on top of any included rack that came with the air fryer, stick it inside and set the machine to air fry at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. After five minutes, flip the pork tenderloin over, spritz again, and set to cook for a further 5 minutes at 400 degrees. Repeat with the rest of the pieces of pork tenderloin.
7. Smear the inside of a hamburger bun with whatever you like on a sandwich. A standard mayo and mustard work pretty well, but I don’t know your life. Add lettuce and tomato if you’re fancy, or don’t if you, like me, didn’t plan very well. Put a piece of pork tenderloin in there. Eat it. Eat the whole thing. Enjoy it.
8. Continue living a happy life now that you know how to make an air-fried pork tenderloin sandwich whenever you want one and don’t have to go to Iowa.
My grandparents are gone now, so my reasons to visit Collins, Missouri are extremely limited, and thus I probably won’t eat at C.A.’s/Smith’s Berry Farm again for the foreseeable future. But! I can have a really tasty fried pork tenderloin sandwich pretty much whenever I want...which is almost always.
The Oklahoma Pork Council represents the interests all of pork producers throughout the state, promoting pork and pork products, funding research and educating consumers and producers about the pork industry. Learn more about the OPC, find recipes and more at OKPork.org.