Pork Tenderloin Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise

tenderloinsoypHave you ever had Short Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise? It’s my favourite way to prepare ribs and also one of the best Chinese dishes I have ever had. Simmered for long hours in soy sauce seasoned with star anise, garlic and cinnamon, they end up falling off the bone, covered in a sticky thick fragrant sauce… In short, a pure delight. You might ask: why fiddle with such a perfect dish? Most of all, to be able to enjoy something similar as often as I wish, without feeling guilty. The other reason is the difficulty to get good quality (read: not antibiotic-pumped) pork ribs because they are not popular here and the better the meat quality, the less cuts are on offer.

Faced with such limitations, I have started to experiment with different leaner and/or more accessible cuts with not completely satisfying results until I tested tenderloin, which proved perfect because it is easy to find, lean and not too dry, even after one hour of simmering. In this particular case the only imperfection is the lack of gelatinous natural thickener for the sauce. Corn flour (aka corn starch), incorporated at the end, was the perfect solution to this problem and the result was just what I had aimed at. I was able to indulge into this marvellous, comforting, fragrant dish without feeling guilty (which doesn’t mean I don’t prefer the full-fat spare-rib version which remains a rare treat). Accidentally, this version is much quicker than the original one which requires about three hours.

The original recipe was taken from “Le Tour du monde de la cuisine. Chine” (China (World Food)) by Annabel Jackson (I’m afraid no longer sold anywhere online).

If you have never had the original version made with pork ribs, I strongly encourage you to try it first:

Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise
Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise

This has got nothing to do with this particular dish, but I wanted to share with you some hilarious photographs of English mistakes in restaurant menus. I have stumbled upon them on the Telegraph website. Some have really made me cry… http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/6193716/Sign-Language-special-restaurant-menus.html?image=1 (Click at the right arrow to see the following photograph.)

TIP: It is very important to use both kinds of soy sauce: the dark one and the light one. They are both sold in every Asian shop and keep for eternity out of the fridge. The dark soy sauce is thicker and is almost black.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two – three): 

500g/about 1 lb pork tenderloin cut into rather big but bite-sized pieces

3 tablespoons dark thick soy sauce

1 whole head of garlic (or more if you are a big garlic fan)

2 tablespoons oil or pork fat

1/2 stick cinnamon

2 star anise fruits

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

175 ml water

2 tablespoons cane sugar (or 3 sugar cubes)

1 slightly heaped tablespoon corn flour (corn starch)

Marinate the tenderloin pieces in dark soy sauce for at least 20 minutes (you can leave overnight too).

Peel the garlic head, separate the cloves, but don’t peel them.

Fry the garlic cloves until they become golden.

Add the cinnamon, the star anise, stir fry for one minute.

Add the pork and let it brown a little.

Pour the light soy sauce, the water, add the sugar and let the dish simmer uncovered for about 1 hour (or more) until the sauce reduced to the required amount (you can increase the heat to accelerate the process). At the end mix the corn flour with 4 tablespoons of cold water and, constantly stirring, incorporate into the sauce. Cook until the sauce thickens.

Serve with rice or bread and pickles.

38 Replies to “Pork Tenderloin Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise”

  1. Sounds and looks good. I have a lot of pork sitting in my fridge – got sent samples for review. I was on the lookout for recipes using tenderloin and chops. I will make this.
    BTW, made the fish salad twice already (had it for lunch today). Its become a favourite. Great recipe – will post sometime in the near future.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Three-Cookies. I think I have posted another recipe using tenderloin. I’m very glad it can be used instead of fatty cuts in many Asian dishes. Thank you soooo much for your kind feedback! I’m really happy you like it so much. I think it’s an example of the perfect meal (of course as long as one likes it!): cheap, easy, keeps several days in the fridge, and also healthy!

  2. OMG, it’s shoyu pork with star anise!! :). I’m so excited about this recipe Sissi — it’s going to bring my shoyu chicken to a whole new level 😉 and I think the whole family will embrace the beautiful aromatic influences from the cinnamon and anise… your picture is GORgeous! Look at the light hitting the pork and the glistening cinnamon stick/anise stars. The dark colours contrasted against the blues and a flash of green. Love! I may have to put this one on the list for Sunday dinner… your shoyu chicken has been made at least a half dozen times and I think this recipe is destined to become the next Sissi classic :O).

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. This one is maybe a bit closer to the Chinese cuisine (star anise, cinnamon…) but you are right: the soy sauce simmering idea is similar. Similarly lazy cooking method too 😉 Perfect for Sunday, as you say. Thank you for the kind compliments! A dark brownish dish seemed quite difficult to photograph. I hope you will like this dish too! (I’m always so happy to think I made you discover Shoyu Chicken which I consider a real jewel among the dishes I regularly cook!).

          1. Sissi, we are just rising from the table. There was not an ounce of pork left on anybody’s plate (and I served generous portions!). Your recipe was a huge hit. Absolutely delicious combination of ingredients as I suspected it might be ;-). The anise and cinnamon are stars here in tandem with the shoyu. I was nervous about the pan fried approach — I have always roasted pork in the past and was concerned the meat would end up being tough (harder to get the right tenderness) but the braising method worked beautifully. I browned the garlic and pork in some good old fashion butter and easily doubled the amount of cinnamon/star anise before simmering. Corn starch is a wonderful thing: worked like a charm. So delicious and yes, tender, yay!! I will definitely be making this one again. A real delight. Thank you Sissi!

            1. Almost forgot to mention, I served the pork with an cinnamon applesauce on the side (nice and cold) and a vegetable rice pilaf that my son made 🙂 (Sunday night dinner is a family affair — everyone contributes ;O).

              1. Wow! It sounds very original! Your son seems to be a very skilled chef (but I remember already seeing his work on your blog).

            2. Dear Kelly, you cannot imagine how happy you have made me (I have a big big smile writing these words!). I’m thrilled to learn you and your family liked this dish. I’m also very relieved everything went well (I’m not always sure I explain clearly all the recipes). From my experience it’s quite difficult to make tenderloin tough and dry, but I tried this recipe once with pork loin and it was dry unfortunately. Browning with butter sounds excellent! Thank you so much for your kind message!

  3. I love braising ribs and definitely many hours of slow cooking time. Tenderloin is a sure winner even on a shorter cooking time. Love adding star anise as it adds this subtle and wonderful after taste to the dish. I hope you’re having a wonderful week, Sissi! 🙂

  4. Oh. My. Goodness. SISSI you struck a nerve here with me! Red-braising flavours are honestly amongst my favourites and certainly the most evocative of childhood memories in Taiwan! Ahhh I really need to make this soon. Best for this weather.

    1. Thank you so much, Irina. I had no idea you spent your childhood in Taiwan! I must say discovering slowly simmered Chinese dishes (opposed to the more popular stir-fries) was a huge step out of ignorance for me!

  5. OMG!
    I can almost taste and smell this from here. The flavor of the star anise is outstanding! I love it so much I also add it to my rice while it’s cooking.
    Your dish looks phenomenal. Would love to try it out!

  6. We used to eat this in a childhood but my mom used to using sweet soy sauce rather than soy sauce + cane sugar….
    but i think the taste must be only slighly different…
    your photograph are astouned as always!
    well done….

    1. Thank you, Dedy, for the compliments. I must try your mum’s method one day (I have sweet soy sauce unused for ages!).

    1. Shallots sound like a great idea. We use shallots a lot here (between France and Switzerland). Thank you, Sonia!

  7. Hahaha thanks for sharing the laughter! I knew there will be Japanese signs in there! It’s always funny to see some crazy translation and most people had no idea what it really says (or don’t even notice the mistake). Love the Chinese spareribs and had it on Thursday night (at our favorite restaurant). It’s a weird reason but I cannot fit both dark and light chinese soy sauce in my fridge… LOL. I wish they come in small bottles! I only have dark soy sauce (which I concessionary use).

    1. Thank you so much, Nami. You are the only one who has noticed my link I think 🙂 I love such things… and I must say I have stumbled upon many funny translations in Japan too, but didn’t think of taking photos. I always use the Japanese soy sauce in Chinese dishes (instead of the Chinese light one) and the dark one is of course typically Chinese!

  8. I love that you converted this recipe from ribs to pork loin. I’ll cook pork loin any day of the week, whereas ribs take a special day. Lovely picture and delicious recipes! I have a fennel brine that I use for pork that yields that licorice hint that star anise has. So I know I would LOVE this dish! Looks and sounds wonderful! I do have a question. You say not to peel the individual cloves of garlic. Do the peels break down during the braise? Thanks for another great recipe Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. Fennel brine sounds amazing! I must try it one day. Most of the peels don’t break during the braising process, you serve them whole and squash them to take out the delicious soft garlic paste…

  9. Dear Sissi!
    We seem to be both in “pork mode”!
    Star Anise is such a great ingredient, although it has sometimes to be used with moderation!
    Mind you you could replace it with Pernod! LOL
    Best regards,

  10. Sissi, I can only imagine the amazing aroma of the pork simmering with the aromatic star anise, which is really so pretty, and fragrant. This is one lovely dish that I would make for guests, but as a rule for pork tenderloin it is not required to cook them too long, ( we call them the ‘other white meat’ here in the US)
    Actually, when roasting a pork tenderloin, it cannot be roasted ‘well done’…you’re supposed to see a little bit of the pink inside!
    Although a different rule applies making a delicious and lean stew with it, which I have not done with tenderloin, only with pork butt!

    1. Thank you so much, Elisabeth, but I think you mean loin, not tenderloin. Tenderloin is never “white” when baked or cooked. You cannot get a “proper” roast out of tenderloin: it’s long and very thin, though of course you can roast it if you want; it just won’t look like a typical wide big roast. Tenderloin doesn’t become dry and tough like loin, this is why I have posted its use here.

      1. Sissi, before I even reply back; Please read the instructions for a Roast Pork Tenderloin recipe…if I had one on my blog, I would have linked that, but this link is quite accurate, and just to show you YES…you can make a ‘proper’ pork roast with a pork tenderloin, which I have done many times for a special occasion, or holiday, but my family tends to stay away from pork these days…except for BB! pork ribs, or occasional bacon!
        Just follow through the step-by-step instructions on this link, and if you will notice that on the first photo, it clearly shows the ‘pink’ color inside the done roast…for 3 lbs…total time 45 minutes!
        …and NO, I don’t mean loin…which I refer to loin chops, which is also lean, and should not be overcooked, which would dry it out!


        Sissi, I would not have replied back re: the Tenderloin unless I didn’t have to explain about this particular cut of pork.
        Having a culinary degree, as a certified chef for 30+yrs requires me to distinguish pork, or any other meats that I’ve prepared.
        quoting from my previous comment:
        “Although a different rule applies making a delicious and lean stew with it, which I have not done with tenderloin, only with pork butt!”

        I still stand firm with what I have carefully put into my comment…your wonderful, creative, and delicious braised, pork tenderloin dish does apply to this rule…it will stay tender since you are braising it in a beautiful aromatic sauce…YES, you most certainly can cook it longer, but as a rule…same DOES NOT apply to roast; and it does NOT have to be a thick roast, its quite elegant, so very tender, if not overcooked. That’s all I have to say about this!

        1. Hi, Elisabeth, thank you for the link. I’m sorry I thought you were talking about loin (a blogger once told me many people in Northern American call both cuts “loins”, hence my answer and I have of course forgotten you used to be a professional cook). I don’t know why but the pork loins I have bought here are never so light in colour as in the photo. They are darker, but on the other hand I buy only organic or free range meat, so maybe this makes a difference in colour). Also the average weight of a whole tenderloin in France (where I buy it) is 1 lbs (I have never seen even 2 lbs), this is why I said you cannot make a roast (I meant it never looks like a roast.. it’s so small and thin, though of course I imagine it baked just like every cut of any animal!). I don’t know what the American doctors say but here pork is no longer bad compared to beef: only fat pork (though some time ago everyone was saying all the pork is bad). I have a friend followed for some health problems and the doctor forbids her beef but encourages to eat lean pork which apparently is much much easier to digest (personally I digest beef very badly too; luckily I don’t like it as much as pork 😉 ).

  11. This is my type of Chinese meal Sissi. I love all the flavors involved in making it! I think braising makes all the difference in the world!

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