In Mexico, wide, thin planks of pork tenderloin are marinated in an aromatic blend of garlic, oil, oregano, guajillo or chipotle chilies, and any of a rotating roster of ground spices, including black pepper, allspice, coriander, clove, cinnamon, cumin and paprika.
If hung to dry like jerky—a common sight at butcher stalls in Oaxaca’s markets—the meat is called cecina. But when grilled and adorned with more chili sauce, the slices become cecina enchilada. It’s a bold, quick dish with plenty of appeal.
But also a drawback. Though they can be packed with flavorful ingredients, marinades rarely actually impart much flavor. But we knew that if we broke the marinade down into its main components—dry and wet seasonings—we could amplify their impact on the finished dish. The solution was to use some ingredients as a flavorful baste at the start and the rest as a bright finishing sauce.
For the flavorings, we looked at the list of traditional spices, then selected those most widely available—cumin, coriander and sweet paprika. A little brown sugar helped caramelize the pork on the grill and balance the spice. And to deepen the flavors, we used the microwave to bloom the spices in oil with the sugar and garlic.
Some of that mixture was slathered on tenderloins that were pounded to ⅛-inch-thick cutlets. To the remaining oil mixture we added fresh and wet ingredients—cilantro, chopped chilies, lime juice—all the items likely to be dulled by the heat if added before cooking.
The resulting sauce was added after the meat came off the grill, keeping the sauce tasting bright and fresh. Bigger flavor built by breaking down a marinade.