"Guys, we are getting beat by Iowa on this. Iowa. If nothing else, do it for pride." - Mike McFeely, regarding the North Dakota food scene's absence of a classic Iowa breaded pork tenderloin sandwich which I read online from my Iowa farm home.
A friend forwarded the opinion piece from McFeely who freely shared his displeasure in the fact that Fargo, N.D., eateries don't offer a "...real, honest-to-cholesterol, pounded, breaded deep fried, salty delicious pork tenderloin sandwich on a too-small bun..." As one could imagine, life without access to a traditional breaded pork tenderloin sandwich on the regular could be frustrating, judging from McFeely's, unsatisfied remarks.
It makes sense when you consider the leader in breaded pork tenderloin sandwich perfection (Iowa) is also number one in pork production in the U.S., while North Dakota slides in at number 25. I guess you could say that is something Iowa pig farmers take great pride in. I know I do as a pig farmer and lifelong Iowan.
I visited Fargo this past spring and know there are things that North Dakota does well, like sunflowers, lefse, kuchen and hot dish among others. I can imagine there is no better place to be than with a North Dakota grandma in her kitchen serving up the regional favorites, just like Iowa grandmas serving up juicy tenderized slices of pork enveloped in a crisp breaded exterior, fried to perfection.
The food traditions of the Midwest are simple and lovely and I have a gut feeling that someone up there (in North Dakota) is doing this already but it hasn't come to McFeely's attention. Hopefully someone will see that McFeely gets the information as to which North Dakota restaurant menus these glorious sandwiches are hiding on, so he can enjoy some proud Iowa tradition in his community and state.
As a judge for the Iowa Pork Producers "Iowa's Best Breaded Pork Tenderloin Contest," I have experienced firsthand the incredible number of fantastic breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches that restaurants in our state have to offer. From thick and meaty, to dinner platter sized thin, there's plenty of diversity in the various takes on this particular sandwich in our great state and every one of them is tasty. There are a few things that I look for when judging that McFeely should take into consideration when indulging, once he discovers these in North Dakota:
• The pork: Is the tenderloin juicy and thick enough that the proportion of the breading and meat is sufficient?
• Frying/seasoning: Was the oil used to fry the tenderloin fresh and is it seasoned appropriately? Does the breading have a nice color and pleasing texture?
• Bun: The bun should enhance the overall appeal of the sandwich, not detract. Is it soft yet able to withstand condiments? Do they butter and toast the bun?
• Condiments: I think this one is up to the person eating the sandwich, but whatever condiments are offered, these should not overshadow the pork flavor, just enhance it.
Keep your lefse, tater tot hot dish and kuchen, (I'll take the recipes, please) and I'll raise you breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, Nutty Bars and Maid Rite sandwiches, along with a slice of Iowa pride. I feel for McFeely and his disenchantment that his own state doesn't serve one of the heavenly delights of the Midwest, and offer him my own personal recipe for a classic breaded pork tenderloin sandwich which I take tremendous pride in giving away.
Iowa Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches
Makes four large sandwiches or 20-24 pork tenderloin strips Ingredients: 1 quart peanut or vegetable (soybean) oil 1 cup all purpose flour 1 cup cornstarch (this makes it extra crispy!) 2 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt 2 eggs, well beaten 3 tablespoons milk ½ package of Chicken in a Biskit crackers, crushed, or other crackers/Panko etc. 4 boneless butterfly pork chops, tenderized Additional seasoned salt or sea salt for sprinkling post-frying 4 bakery style buns, butter spread on each side, toasted prior to serving Directions: Heat oil to 350 degrees in a large, heavy bottomed skillet. Combine flour, cornstarch and seasoned salt in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Whisk well. Set aside ⅓ cup of this mixture to add later. In a second shallow bowl or pie plate, add beaten eggs and milk, mix together. In a third shallow bowl, combine crushed crackers plus ⅓ cup of flour/cornstarch mixture. Mix well. Prepare tenderized pork slices in pieces, if you desire making smaller sandwiches, cut in half.
Dredge each piece of tenderized pork in flour, shake excess. Dip in egg/milk mixture, shake excess. Dredge in cracker crumb mixture. Place on clean plate and repeat with other pieces until complete. When ready to fry, be sure oil temperature is 350 degrees.
Without crowding, fry the dredged pork pieces in batches, in 350 degree oil, for 2 minutes and until golden brown. Use a meat thermometer to test doneness, around 145 degrees. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, let cool 1-2 minutes while you butter and toast buns.
Assemble sandwiches and serve. Serve immediately.
Alternatively, for pork tenderloin strips, cut fried pieces into 1"-1 ½" strips and serve with dipping sauce of choice.