Pork with Tarragon and Mustardy Onions

The first time I made this dish was an evening last fall when I walked into the butcher’s and said, “I just need something easy for dinner tonight.”

Before moving to Scotland, my butcher shop was the gargantuan counter at Whole Foods Market. Being only 5’2″, I was always eye level with the top of the counter, so speaking to the butcher was like talking to a gleaming piece of metal.

In contrast, the butcher shop here is the same size as my kitchen, and speaking to the butcher is like talking to an old friend.

That day last fall he responded with, “Why not pork fillets?”, rhyming with millet and said with a straight face.

I came to pork late, growing up in a Jewish household where the only pork we ate was bacon and ham sandwiches, and these we only ate outside the house.

Pork fillet for dinner? “What would I do with it?”, emphasis on do, sounding like dew and Moooo!

“Just sear it,” he said, “and it’ll be ready in minutes.”

I brought the pork fillets home and cracked open my trusty Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Alice knows how to cook everything and she never leads me astray, even in Scotland.

I flipped through a few pages and decided to pan-sear the pork and finish it with a quick sauce of water, Dijon mustard and butter. First, I’d chop some fresh tarragon and press it into the seasoned fillets.

Tarragon is a beguiling herb, slightly floral and reminiscent of licorice. It does wonders for plain scrambled eggs and I thought it would brighten up the pork. Also, I didn’t have any sage, which is a classic pairing with pork, so I’d have to make the tarragon work.

The resulting dish was delicious and I made it many times before searching for a variation.

By this time it was mid-January and I had an embarrassing number of onions and apples in my veggie box every week. I came across a recipe from Dinner: A Love Story, that promised to use them up. It called for frying up some sliced onion and apple, adding pork chops, then finishing with a quick sauce of mustard, apple cider vinegar and water.

I tried the recipe a few times – and loved the tangy bite of the vinegar with the sweetness of the caramelized onions – but I had trouble getting it just right. For one thing, it calls for finishing the pork with the sauce in a covered saute pan, but mine isn’t big enough for three or four pork chops. When I cooked them in an uncovered pan, the pork dried out and became tough.

Finally I decided to separate the meat from the sauce and just combine them on the plate. In essence, I use the Alice Waters recipe to cook the pork with the tarragon, and the Dinner: A Love Story recipe to prepare a sauce. The result is always successful: moist, sweet, and tangy with a delicious aftertaste of mustard, vinegar and onions.

This recipe will work equally well with boneless pork chops, pork loin steaks or the fillets described above.

4 pork fillets (boneless)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1. Season the pork fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Mince the tarragon and press it into one side of each fillet. You can do this up to an hour before cooking the pork, and leave it to rest at cool room temperature.
2. Slice the onion thinly. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the sliced onion and a pinch of salt. Allow the onion to cook, mostly undisturbed for 5 – 6 minutes. The onion should be just starting to go golden when you start the pork.
3. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the pork, herb-coated-side down. Cook for about 4 minutes, until starting to brown nicely. Flip the pork and continue cooking for another 4 – 6 minutes, until the internal temperature is 145°F.
4. Once you flip the pork, pour the water into the pan with the onions. Scrape up any browned bits on the surface of the pan, then add the the mustard and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The water should reduce slightly to create a nice sauce.
5. Place a pork fillet on each plate, ladling the saucy onions over the top. Slice and enjoy.

Here are some more pork recipes for you to try:


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Snow Drawing

Up here in Scotland we’re in the middle of what one friend calls “the tunnel”. Back in November I bumped into him on the street in St. Andrews. He said, “We’ve entered the tunnel. We won’t come out until February.”

Northern living is challenging at this time of year. The mornings are dark – pitch dark, bump-into-walls-while-making-coffee dark.

The afternoons are even darker. Light seeps into the sky around 8:45 and starts to drain out again by 3:30.

I’ve never been so acutely aware of the winter solstice. We actually count the days we achieved since December 21st.

The good news is we still get out for walks on the sunny days – and Scotland is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer.

Winter Walks - East Lomond

The bad news is the darkness makes me crave carbs. I remember one afternoon saying to Rob, “All I want to do is lie around and eat cookies.”

Instead, I turn on my Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device, fill up my hot water bottle (I think I’d tuck it into my girdle if I wore one), stoke the fire and brew another cup of Artisan Roast coffee.

Hot meals are essential at this time of year. Breakfasts are often frittatas filled with leftover vegs from the night before. Dinners are soups, stews, braises, ribs, and roasts of all kinds. Here are my family’s top 5 winter meals – all of which make excellent leftover lunches the following day.

Moroccan Beef Stew

Moroccan Beef Stew

Studded with slivers of dried apricots and chunks of succulent beef, this stew is a cinch to make and warms you up fast.

Asian-Spiced Braised Beef Short Ribs

Asian-Spiced Braised Short Ribs

These ribs, inspired by the awesome Jean Georges Vongerichten, never fail to delight. They’re easy to make, taste better the second day, and please a crowd. Shown here with braised swiss chard.

Adobo Chicken

Adobo Chicken

Since moving to Scotland, I’ve had to tweak this chicken dish. For one thing, my butcher doesn’t stock drumsticks. In fact, chicken is the hardest protein to come by here. When he does have it, it’s either a whole bird (most economical) or boneless breasts (exorbitant and not as flavorful). I like making homemade chicken stock, especially in winter, so I opt for the whole bird.

I butcher the chicken into eight pieces before browning it in olive oil and butter, about 5 minutes of cooking. I finish the cooking in a hot oven (450°F), about 10 – 15 minutes more. Once cooked, I remove the chicken to a platter and add sherry vinegar and water to the hot pan. Once the liquid is reduced by half, I add a tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper. The sauce emulsifies (though still liquid as opposed to syrup), and I add the chicken back for a quick coating.

You can really use any vinegar you like here. The benefit is that you can change up the flavor slightly, and it also comes together more quickly than the original Adobo Chicken, which requires marinating time. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed by this innovation.

Fennel-Dusted Pork Spare Ribs

Fennel-Dusted Pork Ribs

These ribs from Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment were our Christmas Eve dinner this year. Our butcher started circulating flyers at the beginning of December, which you were meant to take away, fill out, and return by the 12th. The front page described all the festive fayre you could order from them: hampers, stuffing, meat pies, and of course, your holiday turkey or goose or roast or ham.

I took my flyer, but neglected to get it in by the 12th. (I’m used to Whole Foods Market, which is likely open til 11:00 on Christmas Eve, stocked with every imaginable cut of meat in abundance. Of course, their freezer space is larger than the entire butcher shop and post office next door combined.) When I did go in with the flyer, I hadn’t checked anything off. The problem is that I’m still getting used to British cuts of meat – they’re different, they really are, even though the cow is the same!

So I went in and asked if he could get me some baby back ribs. I thought, why not do something simple for Christmas Eve? Ribs are tasty, and they’re fun. You get to eat with your fingers, and who doesn’t like that?

I served the ribs with this celery, apple and fennel slaw straight out of Bon Appetit. It was an amazing dinner. Festive, but so easy to prepare.

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta and Fried Onions

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

This soup is a winner. The sweetness of butternut squash, the saltiness of pancetta, the crunch of fried onions, and the velvety texture of homemade chicken stock. It doesn’t get much better than this on a winter night.

Here are some more meals t0 get you through January:

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Venison Stew with Juniper, Parsnips and Figs

November 13, 2012

One of my favorite places to shop in St Andrews is Keracher’s Fish and Game. A family run business, it’s been around since 1925. Their coldwater and shellfish is the super fresh, coming straight from the waters around Scotland. They offer a range of frozen fish and shellfish, smoked haddock and salmon, deli items such as pickled anchovies, herring and sardines, and all the accoutrements to round out your meal. The thing that interested me most however, on a recent visit, was the diced venison shoulder. I’d never cooked with venison – or any other game – but I was […]

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Mediterranean Lamb Meatballs

October 14, 2012

There’s frost on the ground in the mornings and a big fire stoked in our wood stove. The nights are drawing in and when it’s clear there are more stars visible than I thought possible. Scotland in October is beautiful. At the butcher, mutton has arrived, specifically from the famed Scottish Black Faced sheep. You know these guys, the ones with horns that curl like cinnamon buns on either side of their adorable black faces? These herds live in the most unspoiled countryside in Britain, feeding on heather, wild grasses, berries and the clear waters of the burns. Burns? That’d […]

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Chicken Satay Salad

September 2, 2012

We all have comfort foods we crave again and again. Maybe it’s your mother’s roast chicken, or noodle soup, or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm and gooey from the oven. I could go on, but I’ll cut to the chase here. One of my top comfort foods is chicken salad. I like it classic, with mayo and celery, or shredded into a Cobb salad. I’ll eat it with a garlicky tahini dressing. I daydream about trying exotic chicken salads, like this one with curry and mango. And I love it combined with another fave comfort food: peanut butter, […]

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Chestnut Flour Cake with Almonds and Orange

August 24, 2012

Back in May, just before we moved to Scotland, Saveur ran an article that featured a Corsican chestnut cake. The article talked about how chestnuts are the prize crop of Corsica, the mountainous Mediterranean island that claims to be the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and Christopher Columbus. David McAninch, the article’s author, was more interested in gastronomy than history, entitling his article Pleasure Island. Corsican flavors run towards a plethora of local ingredients: wild game stews, pungent soft cheeses, fish soups, and fragrant herbs. Desserts almost always call into service the citrus and chestnuts that grow in abundance on the […]

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Scotch Whiskey Pork Stew

August 6, 2012

It’s true, when we decided to move north, we headed straight for cooler and damper weather. I’ve worn my down jacket and huddled up with my hot water bottle this summer, but all hope is not lost. Cooler weather is a great excuse to make all kinds of delicious soups and stews. And with an abundance of local beef, lamb and pork, inspiration is easy to come by. The stew above was sparked by an amazing-sounding recipe in the meaty cookbook, Primal Cuts. “Bourbon-Braised Pulled-Pork Sandwiches” comes from Morgan Maki of Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco. I figured if he […]

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Postcard from Scotland: Perth

August 2, 2012

This past weekend we spent a day in Perth, a small city on the Northern shore of the Tay River. We went for a wonderful walk along a sculpture trail, past abstract metal shapes and one impressive sundial, and clumps of lavender in bloom – a sight I never expected to see in Scotland. When we got hungry, as we inevitably do, we stopped and picked up picnic goodies. The Bean Shop offers dozens of kinds of loose teas and coffee beans from all over the tropical world, roasted in house. Walking in to the tiny shop, we were offered […]

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Souvlaki Lamb Burgers

July 23, 2012

We’re quickly learning that the lamb in Scotland is as fresh and more affordable than the local beef. It’s equally tasty, too, being a little gamey and very tender. Ground lamb here is called lamb mince and, thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book for a little inspiration, it makes delicious burgers. The lamb is marinated for about an hour in lemon, garlic and herbs, hence the souvlaki in the title. If you eat dairy, these would be wonderful with some homemade tzatziki. We had them with a local red onion confit from Knowehead Products that has a nice […]

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The View From 57 Degrees North

July 18, 2012

It’s been weeks since I posted here and during the intervening time we’ve moved from 36°N to 57°N, from Durham, North Carolina to Newport-on-Tay, Scotland.   The view from up here is astonishing. As Rob says, “Don’t you just feel like you have to pinch yourself and check if this is real?”. I do. I most certainly do. Or, as the Scots say, Oh, aye.   The Scots say lots of interesting things, actually. Like when we bought the car, the salesman said, I’ll just show you under the bonnet. He took out a key and opened up the hood, […]

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