Delicious, delicate: Tarragon mustard sauce

by Terry B on March 19, 2008

Cream, tarragon, wine and mustard add up to a sauce that brings a delicate finish to pan-seared pork medallions. Recipe below.

I just checked our fridge. We currently have six different mustards in there, most of them either from France or French in style. And ironically, even our über-American yellow mustard is French’s brand. Obviously, mustard is big with us.

It’s big with France too. A city in Burgundy even gives its name to perhaps the most famous mustard or moutarde. According to The Nibble, the city of Dijon had long been a gourmet center. The mustard, developed in local monasteries, “was based on particularly strong and piquant mustard seeds grown in their chalky soil and densely wooded terrain.” In the 1850s, a local mustard producer substituted verjus [an acidic, sour liquid made from green juice of unripe grapes] for vinegar, creating a smoother, less biting product that became the standard. Today, while mustard is still a big industry in Dijon, the term Dijon now refers to a style of mustard rather than place of origin, and vinegar has again replaced verjus in most commercial mustard.

The venerable French mustard maker Maille has been at it since 1747, and their Dijon Originale is my go to for straight Dijon. Just how seriously France takes its mustard—and indeed, pretty much all of its food—can be summed up in this statement from the Maille website: “Its recipes have not changed since they were written down by Antoine Maille in a vellum notebook watermarked with the Arms of the King of France.”

Mustard figures prominently in many French sauces. That’s because, when you combine it with butter or cream and perhaps some herbs, it takes on a wonderful delicacy. Forget the puckery, vinegary zing straight mustard delivers. Mustard sauces offer a subtle, complex liveliness shaped equally by all the ingredients. And when I started experimenting in the kitchen, that’s exactly what happened with this sauce.

What got me started was a recipe Marion came across for pork medallions with a mustard-chive sauce. It sounded pretty wonderful, but of course I had to explore. I started with our cookbooks. For the somewhat modest number we have—some three dozen or so [have I mentioned lately that we're big fans of public libraries which, it turns out, have googobs of books they're perfectly happy to loan out?]—we have an impressive [or alarming, depending on your point of view] number of French or Francophile cookbooks. Then I turned to the Internet. There were similarities and differences across the board. Some commonalities, though. Butter showed up a lot. So did cream, sour cream or crème fraîche. Onions, shallots or leeks. Wine, broth. Garlic—or not. Capers—or not. In the end, the recipe I cobbled together was a mix of the taste I was looking for and what I had on hand.

Pork Medallions with Tarragon Mustard Sauce
Makes 2 servings [may be doubled]

For pork medallions:
1 1-pound pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into 6 slices
salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 generous teaspoon dried tarragon, divided [or 1 tablespoon fresh—see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

For sauce:

Note: If you make the mustard sauce on its own to use with something else, you will need to start with some butter and/or olive oil for browning the leeks.

1 cup chopped leeks [white and pale green parts only; about 1 medium—see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup whipping cream
1-1/2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 1-pound pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into 6 slices
1 teaspoon dried tarragon [or 1 tablespoon fresh—see Kitchen Notes]

Season slices of pork tenderloin on both sides with salt and pepper and half of tarragon. Melt butter with oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear until browned on tone side, for about 3 minutes. Turn and sear on second side for about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate and tent loosely with foil to keep warm. The pork is not cooked through at this time; that’s okay, it will finish in the sauce.

Reduce heat to medium and let pan cool for a moment or two. Add leeks and cook until beginning to turn golden, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and remaining tarragon, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Stir in broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits. Boil until mixture is reduced by about half, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to low.

Whisk in whipping cream and mustard. Return pork to skillet, along with any juices. Cover and cook until pork is just cooked through and sauce thickens slightly, about 3 or 4 minutes. Pool a little sauce on serving platter or individual plates and place pork medallions on sauce. Spoon a little more sauce over meat and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Tarragon—dried or fresh? I used dry partly because I had it on hand, I confess. Partly, though, I like the way it starts adding flavor to the dish from the outset. If you cook with fresh herbs, they should generally be added toward the end of the cooking process. I often find that their flavor in that case comes more from biting into actual bits of herbs than in the taste being imparted to the dish. All that said, fresh herbs are the absolute choice in many dishes.

Leeks? Shallots? Onions? I’m a recent convert to the sweet, mild taste of leeks. When I recently made a potato and leek soup, I began by sweating leeks in butter. I wanted to get out a spoon and just start eating them straight from the pan. That said, use what you have on hand or you prefer. All will work just fine.

If you use leeks, clean them carefully—they love to harbor grit. Slice off root end and most of the green tops. Slice leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse under running water, fanning layers to wash out any trapped grit. Slice crosswise in 3/4-inch pieces.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 3/19/2008

The history of the world in five minutes. The inexhaustible Internet turns up another gem—a short, fascinating and funny history of the world man has built on ideas. See it at WTF? Random food for thought.

Rock-based jazz and Dick Cheney’s hidey hole. Bet you never thought you’d see those two phrases together. FInd out the connection, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Anticiplate March 19, 2008 at 3:35 am

I make something very similar to this that I have on my blog:) I love those flavor combinations!!

Ginny March 19, 2008 at 3:40 am

Delicious! I must try it. I don’t think I use mustard nearly enough!

Donald March 19, 2008 at 9:17 am

Pork and mustard are a great tandem. This dish looks great, especially on that bed of leeks!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) March 19, 2008 at 11:58 am

This mustard sauce would be great on grilled salmon or chicken, too. I use fresh tarragon from my garden in the summer, and in winter, unless I’ve dried some of my garden herb, I really forget to use dried tarragon. Thanks for the reminder.

Mary Coleman March 19, 2008 at 12:57 pm

There you go again with the pork.
Divine!

Sylvia March 19, 2008 at 1:31 pm

I love all kinds of mustard sauce. I usually use whole grain Dijon mustard too. Love your sauce and I bookmark.

Patricia Scarpin March 19, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Oh, I love mustard, Terry. Love it. When Joao and I were in Paris I had a blast, since everywhere we ate there was a pot of Dijon mustard on the table.
It was a shame we did not have time to go to Dijon.

I have never cooked with tarragon. These pork medallions would make my husband so happy. :)

Terry B March 19, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Anticiplate—They are great together. Speaking of great, your scallops and roasted cauliflower sound excellent. Marion recently roasted some cauliflower that was delicious. I think we’re going to have to post it soon.

Ginny—We’re big mustard fans, but every time I make a sauce like this one, I think “I don’t use mustard nearly enough.”

Donald—They do work great together. Mustard sauces also work beautifully with chicken, veal, fish…

Lydia—As much as I love fresh herbs, dried can bring a lot to the party. If you need a source for spices and herbs, check out The Spice House. Their spices are fresher, better and more affordable than the grocery store jars. They have stores throughout the Chicago area and in Milwaukee, and they also ship all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Mary—Thanks! What can I say? Pork is just so darned versatile and delicious.

Sylvia—I was a little skeptical the first time I used whole grain Dijon; wasn’t sure the flavor would blend in as well as regular Dijon. It of course did beautifully, and the graininess adds visual interest to the dish. If you don’t have whole grain Dijon, though, regular Dijon will work just fine in this sauce.

Patricia—Anything that reminds me of Paris is a good thing! Do give tarragon a try—as Epicurious.com says, it is “widely used in classic French cooking for a variety of dishes including chicken, fish and vegetables, as well as many sauces, the best known being Béarnaise.” Don’t go overboard, though—it can be assertive.

Jennifer Hess March 19, 2008 at 7:08 pm

Beautiful, just beautiful. Our collection of mustards is pretty evenly divided between French and German styles (some in tubes!), but I have to say my favorite is Maille Extra Hot. I was so excited to find it in a store recently I bought two jars.

the italian dish March 19, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Ditto on the leeks. The are a very unique taste and I love them. I wish they weren’t so expensive!

claudia (cook eat FRET) March 19, 2008 at 8:47 pm

just beautiful
i think i need to make that soon
it’s such a classic combo…

and is that a happy plate or what?

Susan from Food Blogga March 19, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Mmmm…I can envision many uses for this sauce, Terry. Will be trying this soon, as I have some pork and salmon waiting to be cooked.

Kevin March 19, 2008 at 11:53 pm

I didn’t like mustard for a long time but now I am enjoying it. This looks like a tasty way to have some mustard.

N March 20, 2008 at 12:33 am

These look so gorgeous! Def. going to copycat this for a sometime-soon meal. :D

Terry B March 20, 2008 at 2:57 am

Jennifer—Ooooh! I haven’t tried the extra hot. That’s next on the list.

the italian dish—for whatever reason, we’ve found a couple of inexpensive sources here. Still, I wish I could think of something to do with the tops we buy, then throw away. And I know, if I had a garden I could compost, but…

Claudia—Thanks! We found the plate [a pair of them, actually] in a little antique/junk shop in St. Louis.

Susan—Let me know how it goes with salmon if you try that! Obviously, if you make the sauce on its own, you’ll need some butter or a butter and olive oil mixture to brown the leeks.

N—Thanks! Copy away.

Mike of Mike's Table March 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Mustard is a beautiful thing indeed! I don’t use it enough in my cooking, but I keep on meaning to. This looks like a delicious presentation.

Pam March 20, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Beautiful website! And very timely for me as we brought back a jar of Maille from Maille in Paris last week! I’ll try this recipe soon!

Terry B March 20, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Mike—Repeat after me: “Mustard. It’s not just for hot dogs anymore.”

Pam—Thanks! And “Oh, la!” What a delightful way to acquire your Maille. I enjoyed the couple of posts you did about your Paris trip. Hope there are more to come.

Toni March 20, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Love mustard sauces – just haven’t thought about them in a long time – so thanks for the reminder! I should count the mustard jars in my fridge and pantry some time. I have no idea how many I’ve got!

Fresh tarragon is lovely, but I always dry the stuff I don’t use. And you’re right – it can be assertive, but in gentle amounts? Ahhhhhh! C’est si bon!

Marie March 21, 2008 at 3:57 am

I have a ton of different mustards in my fridge too. What a great sauce!

Nina March 21, 2008 at 11:01 am

Lovely plate of food, I’m drooling. I have a true SA version of mustard that I will post pretty soon, because we only start winter now and the mustard is delicious with a slow roasted leg of pork etc…(a sweet version though)

Carolyn March 21, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Ha! I direct your audience to http://www.aarpmagazine.org/lifestyle/amass_appeal.html
to read about the mustard museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. The article claims over 30,000 people come to the museum annually to see nearly 5,000 unique examples of mustard, representing all 50 states and 60 foreign countries, to watch videos about mustard, buy exotic mustards from the gift shop, and even commission their own vanity brand of the condiment.

katie March 21, 2008 at 8:35 pm

I cook with mustard so often mon mari actually has had to ask me to skip it – once a week or so….
And I love visiting Dijon where I can really stock up on all the ‘specialty’ mustards..

Terry B March 21, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Toni and Marie—Hope this inspires you to haul out those mustards and put them to work.

Nina—Can’t wait to read a South African take on mustard sauces!

Carolyn—A fascinating article on collecting overall. You made me curious, so I found the actual Mustard Museum’s website.

Katie—Oh, the suffering of that poor man. I remember years ago telling someone what we’d had for dinner the night before. Marion did most of our cooking then and was always cooking with sauces [oh, my suffering, right?]. As I described the sauce, my colleague looked wistful, saying she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had something with a sauce for dinner. I thought for a moment and couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t had a sauce at dinner. We mix it up more now, but sauces are still popular here.

Aimee March 23, 2008 at 12:58 am

Hooray for mustard! I have at least 6 kinds in my fridge too and sometime question my sanity, but hey…This recipe looks excellent, I am digging the use of tarragon.

Mimi March 23, 2008 at 8:45 pm

I am constantly blown away by this blog, TerryB! Your photo of the cafe is as delectable as the recipe. Was that taken in the Places de Vosges?

Terry B March 23, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Aimee—Living in Montreal as you do, I think you’re required by law to stock lots of mustard, particularly French, yes?

Mimi—Thanks! Regarding the photo, I just checked with Marion. It was actually on the Palais-Royal.

Pam March 25, 2008 at 3:17 am

I made the mustard and pork medallions this week and My Beloved scarfed them up in no time! Big success! Thanks for the recipe – a keeper!

sandrananda May 8, 2008 at 12:33 am

Meat is just rotting flesh.
Stick to veges.
I dear eveyone that reads this to watch a dvd called ‘EARTHLINGS”
Then post a comment.

Terry B May 8, 2008 at 3:22 am

sandrananda—And unless you’re grazing from fields, vegetables are just rotting vegetation. It’s all dead by the time it ends up on our plates. I prefer choosing from all food groups.

Ben September 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Love this dish! I served it with roasted carrots, fennel, and leeks which went really well with the mustard sauce. One of the best tasting dishes I have ever made!

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