Pan-Seared Pork with Tarragon and Mustardy Onions

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: