The Kentuckiana Hot Loin Strikes Back
The Action Cookbook Newsletter revisits our greatest successes, and looks to the future.
Hello, friends. Welcome to another glorious Friday edition of The Action Cookbook Newsletter. I’m glad you’re here.
It’s been just over a year since I shifted the focus of this newsletter—originally an offshoot of a now-defunct sports podcast—to what it’s become today. In that time, it’s grown far beyond my original expectations. As of this writing, nearly 2,900 people are on the mailing list for this publication, and 475 people have signed up as full, paying members. It’s a thrill for me to write for such a large and still-steadily-growing audience, but it’s become more than that.
Things have evolved lately in a way that I wasn’t fully prepared for but find myself utterly delighted by. There’s, dare I say, a genuine community forming here, and it’s larger than just me and my contributions. People are engaging in the comments much more—you’re sharing ideas, recipes, experiences and thoughts all your own. I receive emails nearly every day from readers, and I can’t express how much I appreciate that. If engaging with this newsletter and with each other brightens your day in any small way, that makes this whole thing a rousing success to me.
I still struggle at times to explain what exactly the through-line of this whole thing is, but perhaps it’s just about finding ways to get through together. Of course, what we do on Fridays is clear: Fridays are when we share a rundown of seven good things to launch you into the weekend on a strong note. Today, in my absolutely unbiased and utterly humble opinion, I’ve got a killer slate of stuff.
I’ve been thinking a lot about concerts lately; I miss the thrill of live performance, miss the feeling of being in a room together with a crowd, the feeling of being in a moment together in a way we can’t be right now. Perhaps the greatest concert I ever saw was when Prince visited the Louisville Palace in 2015, on what would turn out to be his final tour before his untimely passing just over a year later. With an artist like Prince, it was hard to know what kind of show to expect. He could’ve come out and played two hours of unfamiliar experimental stuff, pulling from a back catalog of music as deep as the Kola Superdeep Borehole. That night, though, he strode out on stage, bathed in purple light, and stood behind the microphone stand bearing his iconic symbol. He looked out over the standing-room-only crowd and asked a simple question.
Let me tell you how this is gonna go. Have you ever heard nine hits in a row??
Folks? Let’s go crazy.
7) The Ruler’s Back
I share a lot of recipes here. Some are simple weeknight dinners; others are labor-intensive weekend projects. Some are traditional recipes; others are bonkers creations of a bored man who watches a lot of Guy Fieri.
None has come anywhere close to the reception that I’ve gotten from the Kentuckiana Hot Loin. The dish was conceived on a whim, halfway a joke until I realized how delicious it was: a mashup of two regional favorites melding an Indiana Pork Tenderloin sandwich with the flavors of Nashville Hot Chicken. I made it, I loved it, and I shared it with you last November.
And then you shared it back with me.
By my rough count, more than forty people have sent me pictures of their own renditions of the Kentuckiana Hot Loin. Along the way, you’ve all come up with some notable improvements to the recipe, and so I think—nearly a year later—it’s time to revisit The Action Cookbook Newsletter’s signature culinary creation.
Here’s the original recipe, as posted last year:
The Original Kentuckiana Hot Loin
2-3lb pork tenderloin
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup milk
Slice the tenderloin into about 3” long chunks, butterfly those, and lay flat between two pieces of plastic wrap. Pound with a meat tenderizer until about ¼” thick and considerably wider than it started. Dredge with flour, then a mixture of the milk and eggs, then the bread crumbs. Heat ¼” or so of oil in a heavy skillet (or a dutch oven, to minimize splatter), and fry on both sides until golden. Set on a wire rack in a baking sheet (ideally, but not necessary).
Next, we’re doing the rub:
½ cup of hot oil from the frying pan
¼ cup of cayenne pepper powder
1 T paprika
Garlic, salt and pepper as you prefer
Whisk these together in a shallow, non-heat-reactive vessel (I used a metal pie pan) until smooth, then brush over the hot pork. Want that Popeye’s spicy mayo experience? Whisk together mayo, hot sauce and paprika, then drizzle over it. Serve on a soft, cheap hamburger bun with pickles.
Now, you could just make it like that. It will be very good, I assure you. But let’s talk about some of the improvements you all have come up with.
Brine the pork in pickle juice
This suggestion was first made by @McGuire_GIS. A day or two before you plan to eat the sandwich—after pounding out the pork but prior to any of the other steps—dunk it in pickle brine and let it soak. Sure, you could make a homemade brine, but really? I used the brine straight from a large jar of dill spears, and it worked perfectly. The pork was noticeably juicier and more flavorful than it was without this step. A+
Homemade white bread
In the original recipe, in keeping with the standard for the Indiana-style pork sandwich, I simply used a soft, cheap hamburger bun. It worked well. But a suggestion from reader @jordraph brought this to a new level. You see, one of my favorite parts of getting hot chicken is the plain white bread the chicken is often served on top of; the mixture of grease and spices soaks into the bread, and eating it after the chicken is one of the most primal, wonderful culinary experiences you can have.
The innovation that @jordraph suggested was to make homemade shokupan, a soft Japanese white bread, using this excellent recipe. I cannot endorse this recipe strongly enough; I am an absolutely terrible bread-baker, and the three times I have made this recipe have been the best three loaves of my life by a wide margin. Look at this:
Even if you don’t make the Hot Loin, make this bread. It’s great.
Break the mold
You’ve all found great ways to adapt this to your own dietary needs, and I think that’s terrific. @Benjgc made a kosher version, replacing the pork tenderloin with thinly-pounded boneless chicken. @jerrymills suggested a keto version that replaced the bread crumbs with pulverized pork rinds. Sooner or later, someone is going to pioneer a vegetarian or vegan Hot Loin, and I will celebrate them for doing so.
Recipes evolve, and that’s how they thrive.
This one was a brainstorm collaboration between myself and my good friend Denny Mayo, the gentleman scientist. The original recipe used a spicy mayo as a topping, but we suspected the flaming-hot and savory sandwich could benefit from some sweetness. In late summer, we conceived of using a blackberry-habanero hot sauce:
Toss a pint of blackberries with a cup of sugar and a half-cup of water in a small saucepan; heat until the blackberries begin to soften and pop. Add 1-2 sliced habanero peppers, and stir over medium heat until the blackberries have broken down to a rough slurry, adding water if needed. Remove from heat, let cool, and push the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds and peppers. Drizzle this over the finished sandwich.
Now, let’s put it all together:
The Kentuckiana Hot Loin II
Pound the pork slices thin, and brine for 1-2 days in pickle brine.
Bread, fry and season per recipe above
Place on freshly-baked shokupan
Drizzle with blackberry-habanero sauce and kewpie mayo
I mean, look at that. That’s a sandwich so pretty I want to wear it.
If only there were a way…
6) OH CRAP WE HAVE HOT LOIN MERCH NOW
Are you familiar with Homefield Apparel? You should be. The internet’s premier collegiate clothing brand has been on an absolute tear lately, rolling out terrific vintage designs for some of the biggest and most beloved schools in college sports, all printed on their ridiculously comfortable triblend shirts, hoodies and joggers. I have a drawer full of Homefield gear already, from Purdue to North Dakota State to the Colorado School of Mines. I am not being paid to say this: I love their clothing, and I’ve been dying to collaborate with them, if only I could find a worthy design.
[saloon doors burst open]
This magnificent design is the masterwork of Kev Roche, a supremely talented artist who took my thread of an idea and turned it into something better than I could have possibly imagined. You should check out his work here.
As a good friend said upon seeing this art, “this is the merch of a regional fast food chain that has 5-6 restaurants in two cities”, and they’re right.
And now it’s a Homefield Apparel shirt, available for purchase RIGHT NOW!
Wear the Kentuckiana Hot Loin proudly, and tell folks Action Cookbook sent ya!
6B: The requisite sales pitch / pledge drive
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Not convinced yet? Let me pour you a drink.
5) The voyage extraordinaire
I would never lie to you about this.
This week’s cocktail recommendation is a stone-cold banger, one of the very best I’ve featured to date, and it should immediately become a part of your fall-to-winter bar rotation.
I was introduced to this concoction by my friend, unofficial legal counsel and emergency body-hider Blanx, who adapted his version of the drink from one that used to be served at the now-closed Ann Arbor restaurant Cafe Felix. It’s The Jules Verne.
The Jules Verne
1 jigger dark spiced rum (Kraken or the like)
1 jigger ruby port
3/4 jigger Aperol
dash chocolate bitters
Shake vigorously over ice, and strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube.
This is drink to sip on the dark nights ahead. This is a drink to be consumed in a high-backed chair near a roaring fireplace, before tossing your correspondence into the flames. This is a drink to swirl in your mouth as you consider the ruination of your enemies. This drink is time itself, merciless, cruel and wonderful. This drink is dark, complex, brooding, and rich; it’s a Michigan Man to its black-hearted core.
It’s also tasty with an orange twist (optional).
4) It’s The End Of The World As We Know It And I Feel Fine
I’ve shared my personal affinity for end-of-the-world or end-of-the-world-adjacent writing before—not to mention producing some of my own, with the climate change dystopia The Red Zone: A Football Story From A Hot Planet ongoing here (Chapter 5 released yesterday!)
I love a well-crafted story about dangerous times, whether that be the ruination of a pandemic in Station Eleven or The Stand, the threat of alien annihilation in The Three-Body Problem, or the who’s-the-real-monster zombie tale of Zone One. You might say, “hey, isn’t [waves hands around generally] this a bad time to want to read about the apocalypse?” I say: no! There’s something I find deeply comforting about considering a possible various of the end, especially in the uncertain times we are living in.
(Maybe don’t read Station Eleven right now, though. Give that one a year or so.)
I’ve recently had the distinct pleasure of previewing a wonderful new work of world’s-end fiction, in Claire Holroyde’s upcoming debut novel The Effort.
The book follows an interwoven set of stories as the world grapples with the discovery of an eight-kilometer-wide “dark comet” that, if not stopped, will likely annihilate all life on Earth in a matter of mere months. A fractured world scientific community desperately plans a last-ditch effort to divert the projectile, while political and social order collapses around the world as a result of the seemingly-inevitable end.
It’s hard science fiction that takes a wholly realistic and believable approach in considering an Extinction-Level Event; it’s the thinking person’s Armageddon, and I mean that in the best possible way. It reminded me in no small way of Carl Sagan’s Contact, a book I love dearly for its steadfast embrace of humanity balanced with cold scientific possibility.
The book releases this January, and I strongly implore you to consider pre-ordering it; you won’t regret it.
3) The music you need in your ears right now
It’s hard to define the sound of BLACKSTARKIDS, a Kansas City-based trio whose third album Whatever, Man released early this month. It’s both nostalgic and futuristic; uptempo and downbeat; willfully frivolous and deeply serious. But there’s one word I kept coming back to in listening to the album basically on repeat this week, and that’s joy. Pure, stubborn, defiant joy. The themes it bounces around include depression, loneliness and frustration, but it is an utterly joyous experience to listen to.
This is exactly what I need to carry me into the dark months ahead; I trust it’s going to wear a deep groove in my Spotify most-played rotation.
2) Everything Is Alive
It’s Halloween this weekend, and that shouldn’t go without mention. I’m not personally a big fan of gore, whether it be in horror movies or haunted houses—as I always tell phlebotomists, “I’m not the kind of person who passes out at the sight of blood, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it.”
That said, I do love the low-grade horror of the utterly surreal. (If you’ve been reading my work for a long time, this is probably not a surprise.)
With that in mind, I was delighted to dig into the now-three-seasons-deep podcast Everything Is Alive, an inventive pseudo-realistic interview series where the subjects being profiled are inanimate objects. A can of cola, a subway seat, a baseball cap or a chainsaw, each object is fully inhabited as a character for a single episode.
It’s fiction—obviously—but the host and guests manage to weave in interesting and informative tidbits as they weave in and out of a discussion bound by this absurd framing device. I appreciate the technical freedom allowed in telling a short fiction story, and this podcast embraces its format to create something surprisingly engaging.
As a bonus, most episodes are 25 minutes or so, which is empirically the Ideal Podcast Length. I do not have the endurance for 90-minute-plus podcasts; I can sneak in 25 in between my day’s many interruptions.
Start at the beginning with “Louis, A Can of Cola”, or go thematic this weekend with “Annie, A Jack O’Lantern”.
1) And This One Belongs To The Pets
We’ll end this week as we always do, with a celebration of our animal friends, submitted by Readers Like You. Want to see your dog (or cat, fish, horse, lizard, household ghost) featured here? Respond to this email, or DM me on Twitter! One of the purest delights in my day is having pets arrive in my inbox.
First up this week, Ryan C. has a dog on the move:
We adopted Ginger about a month into quarantine only to quickly discover that she may or may not be part kangaroo. She has downright outrageous hops, and mostly uses them for good, not evil.
GREAT DOG. It is hard for me to accept that this is even the same species as my corgi Holly, who has jumped high enough to get on the couch unassisted three times in nine years, and has been as surprised as anyone else when it happened.
Next up this week, longtime Friend of the Letter Chloe D. shares a very good boy:
For the newsletter, this is Harlan.
HARLAN. Does he want a treat? Is that what this face is? You give him a treat right now, or in the words of Darrell Scott, you’ll never leave Harlan alive.
Finally this week, Conor L. shares a dog who I can only assume is looking out toward a brighter future:
This is Charlie, a black lab my fiancée and I rescued last month. She's big on destroying toys in no time flat, and thoroughly sniffs and licks everything and everyone she encounters. Her favorite activity, though, is keeping a close eye on the neighborhood out the front window, seen here. She never barks at anything but makes sure to take it all in.
Continue to love what you're doing with the newsletter and the many places it goes.
CHARLIE. What a beautiful dog, and a wonderful addition to your home.
Thank you to everyone for sharing, and a sincere thank you to everyone who makes The Action Cookbook Newsletter possible. I’m having a great time doing this, and I couldn’t do it without you all.
Have a happy, safe and spooky weekend.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)