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
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.
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?