Pan-Fried Lamb Tenderloin

Chef's notes:

The lamb tenderloin is a sort of new thing to me. It is not something I am used to seeing at the butcher’s counter. But as the demand for tasty meat increases, the butchers are trying harder to provide us with some of the difficult-to-find cuts. This is great news for many of us in or close to large cities. But as for those of you in rural areas, you may have to mail-order your specialty meat for now.

The lamb tenderloin is a very small but extremely tender piece of meat. It looks just like the Chateaubriand steak from a cow, just a whole lot smaller. It tastes extremely lightly of lamb, and it melts in your mouth, just like a piece of toro (fatty tuna). This will be especially true if you cook it rare, as you should. If you don’t like rare meat, you may cook it to medium rare but not beyond that. If you need your meat overcooked, try braised lamb shanks. They are also very good.


  • 1½ pounds lamb tenderloin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp canola oil

Lightly Spiced Lamb Tenderloins Pan-Fried and Served with a Balsamic/Bourbon Reduction

  1. Assemble the ingredients. The lamb tenderloins are so tender that you only need to cook them a little bit. You also only need to lightly season them. I chose three spices that go really well together: cinnamon, clove, and cumin. As far as the balsamic reduction goes, after the vinegar is reduced by 75%, a little sugar and bourbon are added to balance out the tartness. I also chose these three spices because they go well with the balsamic/bourbon reduction.
  2. Season the lamb tenderloins. The key to adding these spices is to use just a tiny little bit for each tenderloin. A light dusting, if you will. Salt and pepper as you normally would but make sure to rub the spices into each tenderloin. After rubbing all the spices into the meat, rub a small amount of canola oil over them. This will keep the tenderloimns from sticking to the pan as you will be putting them into a dry pan, which means a pan with no oil in it.
  3. Begin frying the lamb tenderloins. Heat a heavy skillet or frying pan over high heat until a drop of water dances and jumps around. Then add 3 or 4 of the tenderloins to the pan, making sure to give them space in between. It will take approximately 30‒40 seconds to sear the first side. It may take up to a minute to do the next side. Treat this tenderloin as if it has three sides. You don’t want to keep it on the heat for more than 3 minutes total.
  4. Remove the lamb tenderloins once they're browned. Let them rest for a few minutes on the cutting board as you cook the rest of the lamb tenderloins. Drape a little aluminum foil over them to keep them warm. Pan frying always makes a lot of smoke. If it doesn’t, you are doing it wrong or you have a good ventilation system. Open a window or door. Trust me—a little smoke is a small price to pay for the quality of food it creates.
  5. Reduce the vinegar in the pan. After you have finished searing the lamb tenderloins, reduce the heat to medium-high. To the pan add the balsamic vinegar and begin reducing it. It will reduce fairly quickly in a wide frying pan. You may scrap up the fond or drippings for the sauce. After a few minutes, the balsamic vinegar was 75% reduced and getting syrupy. At this point, remove it from the heat, and add the sugar and the bourbon. Cut the tenderloins and serve with the reduction. Enjoy.

Tips & Tricks

  • Smoke is natural part of pan frying, so open a window or turn on a fan.
  • Let the meat come up to room temperature before cooking it.
  • After you season the meat, let it sit for only a minute before you cook it. If you let it sit too long, it will begin to get soggy.
  • Use a nonstick pan if you want. It can make for easier cleanup. You just won’t get as many drippings.
  • Don’t move around the tenderloins too much. Once you lay them down in the pan, let them be until it’s time to flip.
  • Don’t waste your time marinating tenderloins. It will spoil the flavor. Reserve marinades for cheap, chewy pieces of meat.
  • A cast iron skillet may be the best tool for this job. Its thickness helps to hold heat and cook meat more evenly.

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Recipe

  • ¾ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ Tbsp cane sugar
  • 1 Tbsp bourbon