Cocoa Nib and Fennel Encrusted Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin may very well be my favorite cut of meat. It is perfect on so many levels. It’s lean, but still incredibly juicy and tender. It’s fairly inexpensive. It can be cooked using lots of different techniques. And it’s mild taste is the perfect base for a multitude of different flavor combinations.

I’ve made pork tenderloin many different ways: marinated, brined, dry rubbed, grilled, pan fried, oven roasted, etc. But I think this recipe is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE way to enjoy pork tenderloin. I’ve been making this recipe for a couple years now, and no other pork tenderloin I’ve made during this time has been able to surpass it.

The flavors from the rub used to coat the pork tenderloin just burst in your mouth (and also make your kitchen smell divine while you are cooking). The cayenne gives it a nice amount of heat. And I just love the way the salt and spices combine with the chocolate. If you haven’t tried chocolate paired with savory foods yet, you are missing out! It’s seriously delicious. You sear the pork tenderloin first on the stove top, then finish off cooking in the oven. This leaves you will a slightly crispy crust and a super moist interior.

This recipe is quick enough for a simple weeknight meal, but it won’t fail to impress guests with even the most discerning palates at your next gathering.



Recipe from NPR’s Kitchen Window

Cocoa Nib and Fennel Encrusted Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4

Cocoa Nib and Fennel Encrusted Pork Tenderloin


  • 2 tablespoons cocoa nibs
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Pork tenderloin (about 1 to 1 1/4 lbs), trimmed of excess fat


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. Line the inside of a roasting pan with aluminum foil. If you don’t have a roasting pan, a deep ovenproof baking dish will also work.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the cocoa nibs and fennels seeds until coarse. Transfer to a small bowl and add the remaining ingredients through the cayenne pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.
  3. Using your hands, rub the tenderloin with 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Next, rub the cocoa nib/spice mixture all over the tenderloin, massaging it into the meat and making sure everything is evenly coated. I know, this is messy. But trust me, it’s so worth it!
  4. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining tablespoon of canola oil. Place the tenderloin in the skillet and cook, turning to achieve even browning on all sides of the pork. Your kitchen should smell heavenly at this point. I usually let it cook about 2 minutes on each side. You really don’t want to cook it much longer than this, because the sugar and chocolate in the rub will start to burn.
  5. Transfer the browned tenderloin to your roasting pan and place in the pre-heated oven. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the tenderloin reaches 145-150 degrees Fahrenheit. For me, this takes approximately 13-15 minutes, but it’s a good idea to check the temperature with your thermometer after 10 minutes, as pork tenderloin cooks quickly and ovens can vary.
  6. Once your tenderloin is cooked, removed it from the oven, tent with foil, and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes at room temperature. Cut the pork tenderloin into slices and serve immediately. Although, the leftovers are equally delicious the next day!


1. I find cooking the pork tenderloin to 145-150 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal when serving this dish to a crowd. The slices off the thicker end will be a bit pink still, while the slices from the narrow end of the tenderloin will be more well done (and should have no pink on left them). Everyone in your group should be able to find something that suits their taste.

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