Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Hot Peppers, Corn, and Queso Fresco over Creamy Polenta

You know when you have a recipe that calls for a whole pork tenderloin, and when you take it out of the package it has that one end that looks like it got attached the wrong way? I mean, how are you supposed to cook a whole pork tenderloin properly when it has that weird little chunk flapping off the end that’s going to cook way faster than everything else? Luckily, I find that most recipes call for a 1-pound tenderloin even though they almost always weigh more than that, so I usually chop off those little hammerhead ends and save them up until I have enough to make a meal.

As I was deciding what to do with my stash of pork scraps, I stumbled across some frozen corn that I had cut off the cob back in…August? September? It must have been before the Thai basil in the garden died because I had written “for salad” on the baggie, as in, I was intending to make this delicious summer corn and smoked trout salad with it and obviously never got around to that.

The corn was surprisingly un-freezer-burned and I figured that it was past time to use it, so I set out to make something adapted from Aria Kagan’s Chili-Lime Pork Tenderloin over Soft Polenta with Hungarian Wax Peppers and Corn. It calls for creamy polenta cooked with wax peppers, topped with a corn and wax pepper sauté and then sliced pork tenderloin. I omitted the peppers from the polenta and added a few more to the sautéed vegetables to make it spicier and prettier, but I otherwise left those parts largely unchanged.

Hungarian wax peppers, red jalepeños, and serrano.

I did the pork completely differently though: the original recipe calls for a whole tenderloin, marinated in lime juice and chilies; I’ve tried it before, but I wanted more heat and less sour. I ended using a dry rub on the pork pieces and then stir-frying them, which was easy and flavorful. It’s a spicy and satisfying one-dish meal for a cold night. 

Note: I really like spicy food. My Hungarian wax chilies were not super hot, so adding jalapeños and serranos to the mix gave it just enough heat for my taste. Adjust to your taste if your Hungarian wax peppers are plenty spicy or if you don’t like that much heat.

I have seen recipes that call for “queso fresco or feta” but this is not one of them! Feta tastes completely different from queso fresco and it doesn’t get melty like queso fresco. Go find yourself some queso fresco. 

Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Corn and Hot Peppers Over Creamy Polenta

serves 4

For the pork:

  • 1 Tbsp. regular chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • pinch of ground cayenne
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 T. olive oil
  1. Combine all of the spices.
  2. Pat the pork dry, and coat it all over with the spice mixture.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  4. Sauté the pork until cooked through. I chopped my pork pretty small and it only took about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and tent with foil while you prep the veggies and polenta.

For the corn and hot peppers:

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 Hungarian wax peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 red jalapeños, finely chopped
  • 1 serrano, finely chopped
  • kernels from 4 ears of fresh corn (or 3 c. of frozen kernels, thawed—but I’ve tried both and fresh is better)
  • 1/2 c. (2 oz.) queso fresco
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and all of the peppers; sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. (If you’re up for multi-tasking, now is a good time to start the polenta.)
  4. Add the corn and cook for another 3 minutes.
  5. Crumble the queso fresco over everything and cook for another minute.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the polenta and to finish:

  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 3 c. chicken broth (I used water and a couple of bouillon cubes and it was fine)
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cornmeal and broth.
  2. Turn the heat on medium and start whisking occasionally.
  3. When it starts bubbling, whisk constantly until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat and whisk in sour cream, butter, and salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, divide the polenta onto plates or bowls. Top with the corn and pepper mixture, and then the sautéd pork plus any accumulated juices.

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