Finishing up with Illinois, I merely cross state lines for this next post, in the hopes of finding out just what sets Indiana's food apart from the rest of the Midwest.
Official Name: State of Indiana
State Nicknames: The Hoosier State
Admission to the US: December 11, 1816 (#19)
Capital: -Indianapolis (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Fort Wayne (2nd largest); Evansville (3rd largest); South Bend (4th largest); Gary (5th largest - let me thththay it onththth agaaaaaiinnn)
Region: Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Wild Rice, Maple Syrup
Bordered by: Lake Michigan (northwest); Michigan (north); Ohio (east); Indiana (east); Kentucky (south); Illinois (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: water (beverage - no, seriously, I am not making this up); sugar / "Hoosier" cream pie (pie)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: American Indian (especially Shawnee) foods like buffalo, deer, turkey, corn, maple syrup and wild rice); again, Hoosier cream pie, breaded pork tenderloin sandwich; Wonder Bread; popcorn
As Marcia Adams points out in her Heartland cookbook, Indiana's is not just a monolithic Midwestern cuisine. It is a hodgepodge of Native American ingredients and cooking techniques mixed with migration from all over the country and various parts of the world. Native American peoples, from the Shawnee to the Kickapoo to the Miami, grew corn, beans and squash many generations before Indiana became part of the United States. Indiana is also wild rice country and maple country, and both were used by Native Americans here for millenia before corn ever came to the area from points west. Once European Americans started coming to the area, they brought their own regional traditions that today shape food differences within the state. Northern Indiana was settled by people from New England, and later by German (especially Amish) and Irish immigrants; Southern Indiana was settled by Southerners, and so the food there is more distinctly Southern in its style [Food Timeline.org; Adams 1991]
And yet, what seems to consistently pop up as the most quintessentially Hoosier dish is a massive sandwich from right in the state capital, but by no means just found there. This is the ubiquitous breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. I go back to Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood Sandwiches for the scoop on the breaded tenderloin: it all started back in 1904 in the town of Huntington (just west of Fort Wayne), from a street cart. When the owner, Nick Frienstein, opened Nick's Kitchen in 1908, he continued making the sandwich, this time pounding the meat flat. The Sterns point out that Nick's brother lost his fingers to frostbite, and used the stumps to pound the meat to make it more tender. Not sure what to do with this information, really [Stern & Stern 2007: 112]. Since this sandwich simply seems to scream "Indiana" as it is being pounded into deep fried delicious submission, I had to try to make this.
Any Hoosier who reads this can, will and probably should laugh at me, because I did this one kind of wrong.
The recipe: Breaded (Pork) Tenderloin Sandwich
The first thing that Hoosiers will laugh at me for doing is buying a pork tenderloin (on sale, no less), and then cooking the whole thing. That is why one should read all recipes completely before preparing a recipe. I just don't learn. Since I didn't have the money to buy a second, now not on sale tenderloin, I had to make do with pre-packaged pork loin cuts. I eventually found success with two small and tender pork loin cuts. Originally, I had planned to buy two very thick ones and pound them flat. I didn't pound them flat enough, as you will see. But in the future, while pre-packaged loin cuts will make a nice sandwich, if you want to make it the authentic way you should probably buy a pork tenderloin and cut it and pound the slices flat yourself.
That said, you will need:
* pork tenderloin (note what I said above if you want to do it right; if you don't, either buy a very flat cut of pork or a thick one that you will pound flat. I mean this; it needs to be made thin)
* flour, buttermilk and egg (had themall; you will marinate the pork in this overnight)
* bread crumbs (was out of bread crumbs; a few bucks will get you all the bread crumbs you need; also note, the Sterns suggest not bread crumbs but crushed saltines, which they use at Nick's)
* oil for frying (had it; I used peanut oil in this case)
* hamburger rolls (one per cut) and toppings such as mustard, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.
The process seems simple, but is easy to screw up if, again, you don't pound that tenderloin. I did, but not nearly enough. As a partial defense, I live in an apartment hose through which sound travels and reverberates easily, and spending a good five or ten minutes pounding my tenderloin on any surface in my apartment would bring about complaints from the neighbors (as annoying as most of my neighbors are, notwithstanding). Eventually I had to take the pork outside and pound it on the porch.
Even so, I still did not pound it nearly as long as I should have, since I only got it a little flatter than it could have been. You need to get it to about 1/4 inch. If you get an inch thick cut, you will need to pound it a lot.
Take this pounded pork tenderloin and soak it in a mixture of flour, buttermilk and egg - and mix it up, don't just throw it all together - overnight.
When ready, take your pork and dredge it in the bread crumbs or crushed saltines.
And fry away! Make sure your oil is at least 350°F before you put it in. Fry until golden brown (the Sterns say golden blond, but since I was reusing oil I never got anything lighter than brunette), for 6 to 8 minutes.
Here is why you need to pound it into roadkill:
If for some odd reason you did not see that photo, let me explain this: the center of the tenderloin was pink. Deep pink. Now I know, I know, you might point out that the FDA recently said that pork that's pink in the center is safe enough to eat. I and my Crohn's disease beg to differ. I am not eating that. So to rectify the tenderloin, I just cut it in half down the side and - GASP! - nuked it for 30 to 60 seconds.
The much thinner tenderloin cuts I bought earlier worked much better, and were not only not pink in the center but also tender and crunchy. However, it still doesn't exactly fit the definition of the Hoosier Tenderloin Sandwich, which is usually much wider and longer than this. Oh well. I still got something that at least tasted like the actual thing, even if there was less of it to taste.
So how did it taste? Ask a guy who considers soft, juicy and tender meat covered in fried, crunchy breading to be one of the most wonderful things to eat in the whole wide world, that question again and just guess how I thought it tasted. It was absolutely lovely, the juicy pork underneath crunchy bread crumbs. I did not really taste the buttermilk, but perhaps I would have if, again, I had flattened it enough so that the marinade would have penetrated the whole cutlet. Still it is a tasty sandwich, and I will probably make it again, even if I never set foot in Indiana again.
Adams, Marcia. Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens. Clarkson Potter: New York, 1991.
Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. Roadfood Sandwiches. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2007.
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Indiana" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Indiana".